Graffiti is more than an eyesore or creative expression, it's a way for rival gangs to communicate, said a gang expert for the Carson City Sheriff's Department.
In some communities, vandals spend a considerable amount of time creating "art."
But in Carson City, most of the graffiti is generated by gang members using public and private buildings to insult rivals, battle for space and mark their turf, said Sgt. Mark Marshall, gang officer.
"There is no artwork involved in this, this is just gangbangers claiming territory and that's all it is," he said. "It's really becoming a big problem here."
The recent felony graffiti arrest of a non-gang affiliated Carson High School student who was allegedly mimicking a video game, is an exception to the norm, Marshall said.
In 2004, Carson City deputies responded to 184 reports of graffiti. In all, 559 reports of vandalism were received.
Marshall said that with the increase of graffiti, the community can expect to see an increase of violence.
"The way this gang graffiti works is when one gang finds a wall or a mailbox or whatever, what they are doing is they are claiming this area. If another gang goes down and crosses out that graffiti and leaves their own, that gang now has said, 'no this isn't your territory it's mine,'" he said. "This leads to violence."
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, graffiti is the most common type of property vandalism nationally.
For Claudia Saavedra, community service coordinator for the Department of Alternative Sentencing, the increase of graffiti in Carson City in recent years is disheartening.
"I hate graffiti, I've been trying to cover it for years," she said. "I love this town, I want to see it clean. We have a great community."
When someone is convicted of a crime and sentenced to community service, they contact Saavedra who sends them out on various projects. She runs the city's Graffiti Abatement Program among others.
According to Graffiti Hurts, a national grassroots program dedicated to raising awareness about the harmful effects of graffiti vandalism, the best way to combat graffiti is to remove it immediately, thus preventing the vandal from getting any fame from his work.
Saavedra said that's more difficult than it sounds, since the city doesn't have money budgeted for graffiti removal supplies like paint and brushes.
"We never did because, you have to realize, we never had a problem like we do now," she said.
The most obvious example of having to wait for supplies is at the post office at Roop Street and Little Lane. For at least two weeks, the brick wall surrounding the federal building has been a battleground of sorts for a graffiti war among three local gangs.
Saavedra said she first had to get approval from the post office to remove it. On Thursday, she was making arrangements to have one of the 400-plus people in the community service program paint over it.
She said she got lucky with the paint this time - someone donated a couple of 25- gallon buckets and Lowe's agreed to tint it to match the brick wall for free.
"What I really would like is some businesses to call me and say 'Hey Claudia, I'll help you fight the graffiti, I'll get you supplies.' The manpower, I have," she said.
Sgt. Marshall said people can become more involved in the prevention of graffiti by calling police any time they see something suspicious.
"If they see people around these walls that are repeatedly hit, or around closed businesses after dark - just somebody kind of hanging around - they need to report it to us," he said.
• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.
You can help
• To donate to the city's Graffiti Abatement Program, contact Claudia Saavedra at the Department of Alternative Sentencing at 887-2530.
• To report graffiti or suspicious persons call the Carson City's non-emergency dispatch at 887-2007 or contact the gang and graffiti office at 887-2004 ext. 1610.
• For information on Graffiti Hurts visit: www.graffitihurts.org