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County OKs law targeting taggers and their parents

Supervisor Gloria Molina says the idea is to shake up families that are in denial.

August 20, 2008|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Seeking to hit graffiti vandals and their parents in the pocketbook, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure that would allow authorities to hold taggers -- and their parents -- liable for civil damages.

It takes effect in 30 days.

The new county law is part of a broader strategy against blight that aims to step up enforcement by conducting more specialized prosecutions, as well as having the violators pay fines up to $1,000 and having liens issued against their property. When warranted, the measure also would allow authorities to seek felony vandalism charges in court.

The thinking behind the approach, Supervisor Gloria Molina said, is to shake up parents and guardians who are in denial about their children's actions, unaware of them or simply don't care.

Reported graffiti incidents in areas patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department rose from 2,083 in 2002 to 4,274 in 2006. Though exact numbers were not immediately available, officials said the incidents increased in 2007. Countywide, officials spent up to $30 million on graffiti removal and tagging suppression efforts in 2006.

Los Angeles County spent nearly $30 million last year to remove graffiti, records show. Caltrans last year spent about $5 million on graffiti removal in Los Angeles and Ventura counties alone.

But Molina, who said that the actual property damage to businesses and public buildings and infrastructure is far higher, said tagging also has led to violence, including murder.

In one of the highest-profile cases, Robert Whitehead of Valinda was shot to death in 2006 after challenging young gang members he caught crossing out another gang's graffiti on a neighbor's garage. Last year, Pico Rivera grandmother Maria Hicks was gunned down after she honked her car horn, flashed her car lights and followed a tagger who had defaced a wall.

The killings led Molina to push for a six-month pilot program in Pico Rivera and unincorporated areas south and west of Whittier.

L.A. County Sheriff's Capt. Michael J. Rothans said that during that period, there were 168 arrests -- 133 minors among them -- for tagging that resulted in $345,000 in damage. In Pico Rivera, one suspected graffiti vandal who was arrested last March was believed to be responsible for tags on 100 locations.

Rothans said 41% of families with suspects under age 18 have sought help by agreeing to attend a parenting or intervention program. None of those minors have been rearrested, he said.

Earlier this month, Molina announced a $25,000 reward in another tagging-related homicide. In that case, Luis Sandoval, 71, of East Los Angeles was fatally shot after witnessing two males spray-painting graffiti on the side of a business.

--

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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