Increase prompts city to take tougher stance to catch, stop vandals
WHITTIER – It’s everywhere you look: on street signs, fences, etched into storefront windows. The amount of graffiti in Whittier has nearly doubled over the past year, officials say, straining the city’s manpower and resources while chalking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. Police blame the increase in graffiti on gang members, tagging crews and casual taggers. But officials say they are not sure why the vandalism has increased so dramatically from 2004 to the present. “We see it in the alleys, on sidewalks, telephone poles, on businesses, fences,” said resident Rosie Seelt, a member of the Uptown Neighborhood Watch. “In the last year, it’s gotten a lot worse.” Whittier earmarks $300,000 annually to its Public Works Department for graffiti removal, but the department broke its budget last year trying to remove all of it, department Director David Mochizuki said. “We did over 4,000 more (graffiti removals) than we usually do in the last year,” said Jeff Smith, the department’s street maintenance supervisor. In Uptown, vandals using etching cream and other tools to scratch their monikers into store windows are costing business owners thousands, said Larry Trujillo, manager of the Whittier Uptown Business Association. “It got really bad around Thanksgiving,” he said. “We’ve had a major problem. Everything in Uptown is mom-and-pop (owned), and they can’t afford to replace an $800 or $1,200 window.” City and police officials are trying to fight back, beyond simply removing scrawlings. Police are testing security cameras in Uptown Whittier to see whether they can be used to catch vandals. Mayor Greg Nordbak recently proposed a Citizen Action Committee to come up with fresh ideas to fight graffiti. The council will discuss the committee’s formation at its Jan. 24 meeting. “It’s getting horrible,” said Nordbak. “Something needs to be done about it. It’s out of control.” Police have formed a graffiti-abatement task force, assigning officers to specifically look for and cite people making graffiti or possessing spray paint, etching cream and other tagging implements, police spokesman Jason Zuhlke said. Anyone caught causing $400 or more in graffiti damage could face felony charges, he added. “It’s a no-holds-barred approach. We’re taking a very aggressive posture toward these people we’re detaining. If we see they have intent or tools to vandalize, they are at least getting citations,” he said. City officials also are meeting with business owners about ways they can protect their store windows, City Manager Steve Helvey said. “Our graffiti removal crews respond the same day or next day,” Helvey said. “We keep it off, and wish we could find a way to do something else. For some kids, this is fun for them. I’m sure they get a big kick out of it. It creates so much destruction and I’m not sure what the point is. I don’t quite get it.” [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3026 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGift Box shows no rust in San Antonio Stakes win at Santa Anita160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!