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Anti-Graffiti Law Targets Possession of Paint, Markers : Taggers: No one under 19 will be allowed to carry such paraphernalia in public places. Violators will be fined $50 for the first offense.


NORWALK — City officials, escalating their war against graffiti, have passed a law that makes it illegal for anyone 18 or younger to carry paint, markers and other graffiti paraphernalia in public places such as parks, streets and alleys.

Before the new measure, which the City Council this week moved to put on the books permanently, sheriff's deputies were able to arrest only those graffiti vandals caught in the act.

"This law is going to have a dramatic impact on the reduction of graffiti. It gives the city teeth," said Keith Alber, a Norwalk Superior Court referee who hears tagging cases. "Now there is a broader basis for arrests."

Alber, who hears about 15 graffiti-related cases from Norwalk each month, said he expects the monthly caseload to increase to about 50 once sheriff's deputies begin enforcing the measure. A temporary curfew law that Los Angeles officials enacted last year following that city's riots resulted in a threefold increase in arrests, he noted.

Violators will be fined up to $50 for the first offense, a maximum of $100 for the second offense and up to $250 for each violation after that. They can work off the fines by removing graffiti, at $5 per hour.

Kevin Gano, the city's public safety director, said sheriff's deputies have some flexibility. They can issue citations requiring court appearances, or refer offenders to city staff for counseling and a minimum of 30 hours of community service.

Although he expects arrests to increase under the new law, Gano said he hopes the ordinance will serve as a deterrent.

"We're not in the business to arrest kids and impose penalties on them," he said. "I think the word will get out. Kids are going to realize that it's not worth it, that the consequences are much too high."

The City Council tentatively approved the permanent measure Tuesday. A temporary version of the ordinance was approved March 16.

The new law is the city's latest effort to crack down on graffiti. Since mid-January, city public safety employees, volunteers and sheriff's deputies have conducted monthly stakeouts to catch taggers. Those caught must pay to clean walls they have defaced and complete a minimum of 60 hours of community service cleaning graffiti, mowing lawns or pulling weeds for elderly residents.

In late December, the city began offering paint to residents and businesses to cover graffiti.

Three years ago, the City Council approved an ordinance requiring merchants that sell aerosol paint cans and wide-tip markers to keep the materials locked up.

The efforts, Gano said, have resulted in a dramatic reduction in the hours the city has spent cleaning graffiti over the past three months. Until mid-January, six two-person crews worked eight hours every day painting out graffiti throughout the city. Now, one crew is assigned to graffiti removal, he said. Response times to graffiti calls have been reduced from three weeks to 24 hours, he said.

Councilwoman Judith Brennan said during Tuesday's meeting that she had noticed the impact of the anti-graffiti efforts. "I've seen a tremendous decline in graffiti," she said. "The difference is night and day."

Several other cities in the Southeast area also have adopted laws and other measures to curb graffiti.

The Paramount City Council, which passed a law in 1981 prohibiting minors from possessing cans of spray paint, voted on Tuesday to widen its law to include wide-tip markers, paint sticks or any other tool that leaves an indelible mark.

Another revision requires shopkeepers who carry wide markers, paint sticks or spray paint to keep them out of reach of customers, who would have to ask a clerk for assistance, Deputy City Manager Pat West said.

The Whittier City Council has tentatively approved a measure that would prohibit youngsters and adults from carrying spray paint or wide-tip markers in public places. Merchants also would be required to keep spray paints and markers locked up. The council recently approved an ordinance requiring merchants to pay for graffiti removal on buildings that are frequently tagged.

Later this month, the Cerritos City Council is expected to approve a law prohibiting those under 18 from carrying markers and spray paint in public places. The measure also requires merchants to lock up markers and spray paint, and forbids the sale of such items to minors. Authorities said they hope other cities will follow suit.

Some cities, including South Gate and Huntington Park, offer rewards for tips that lead to the arrest graffiti vandals. Other cities conduct community cleanup days.

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