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Video Surveillance Cuts Graffiti by 60%

Success of a volunteer program prompts L.A. officials to seek the use of cameras citywide.

August 16, 2005|Natasha Lee | Times Staff Writer

A video surveillance camera installed at Lake Street Park as part of an aggressive neighborhood graffiti abatement program has been so successful that Los Angeles police and city officials said Monday they want to expand it citywide.

Since the program was launched a year ago, the anti-graffiti campaign has been credited with reducing the amount of tagging in the neighborhood by more than 60%, said Councilman Eric Garcetti, who initiated the program.

"We're keeping a step ahead of them and that's discouraging them," said Garcetti, who was joined by Police Chief William J. Bratton at a news conference at the park north of Beverly Boulevard and Alvarado Street.

As part of the program, officials said there are plans to install 12 additional video cameras in neighborhoods along the Vermont Avenue corridor beginning next year. The city has set aside $500,000 to expand the program.

Resident Joselyn Geaga-Rosenthal, 58, said that the anti-graffiti effort, dubbed UNTAG, or Uniting Neighborhoods to Abolish Graffiti, has given the working-class community a sense of empowerment.

"I think it's wonderful," she said. "I think there's more hopefulness and pride in the neighborhood."

The abatement program is unusual in that it puts the responsibility of reporting the tagging on the neighborhood's residents. Volunteers are assigned several blocks to monitor and required to call in any vandalism to city authorities. City contractors are then dispatched to paint over the graffiti.

There are dozens of graffiti removal and paint crews that operate throughout Garcetti's 13th Council District, which includes Echo Park, Hollywood and Silver Lake. Each crew costs the city about $100,000 a year, officials said.

The program is based on a model used in San Jose, which has seen a 70% decline in graffiti activity over the last decade, Garcetti said. "Many times we feel like the problems in L.A. can't be solved," he said. "We have shown in this one year we can un-tag our communities."

Bratton urged residents to help monitor and protect their neighborhoods. Tagging is often associated with gang activity as a way for gang members to mark their territory or send out messages to other gangs.

"You have to keep at this every day -- day in and day out," said Bratton, who estimates that there are more than 300,000 taggings throughout the city.

But not all tagging is gangrelated, and some young people view the spray-painting as a form of artistic expression. But Bratton was quick to dismiss this notion. "They are quite simply criminals. This is not art, it's desecration," he said. "If they want to do it, let them do it on their own homes."

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