Encouraged by the success of a pilot program to combat graffiti in the Los Angeles Police Department's Wilshire Division, city officials plan to step up enforcement of an ordinance requiring merchants to lock up spray paint cans and markers.
The sale of spray paint to minors is prohibited, but some youths steal spray paint cans and markers from open store shelves, said City Atty. James K. Hahn.
In 1990, the City Council passed the ordinance requiring merchants to place spray paint and markers in locked display cabinets or otherwise secure them, but its enactment was stalled by a lawsuit filed by paint manufacturers. In February, after much legal wrangling, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling upholding the ordinance.
The ordinance, introduced by Councilman Nate Holden, makes it a misdemeanor for a merchant to fail to secure spray paint cans and marking pens with tips four millimeters wide or larger in a locked display that can be opened only by a store employee. Merchants found to be in violation are given 14 days to comply, after which they face a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The pilot program in the Wilshire Division, in operation for more than a month, has relied heavily on community volunteers to monitor compliance at neighborhood stores, Hahn said. Nearly all of the 19 stores selling spray paint and markers in the Wilshire Division are now in compliance with the ordinance, he said.
"Many community groups already are actively fighting graffiti and have organized patrol groups and surveillance teams, paint-out days and anti-graffiti workshops," Hahn said. "We want these groups to get involved in playing an equally active role in helping police monitor stores for compliance."
Gayle Takahashi, a deputy city attorney who helped organize the Wilshire program, said she hopes to expand the monitoring program citywide. "It only takes one police officer and a bunch of community volunteers," she said.
Officer Ronnie Cato, who coordinates the Wilshire Division program, said enforcement would be impossible without community volunteers.
"We're spread too thin dealing with more serious crimes, but we do respond if we receive complaints about a store from people in the community," Cato said.
In the Wilshire Division, members of the Southwest Assn. of Neighborhoods, a federation of community groups and homeowners associations, have been instrumental in the success of the enforcement program, Hahn said.
At a recent ceremony at a store in Country Club Park, Hahn presented Richard Waters of SWAN with a commendation in recognition of his efforts.
"We have to get the word out about the ordinance," Waters said. To assist the police, Waters and other volunteers "took pictures inside stores that were not in compliance, kind of surreptitiously."