Graffiti bandits have been working overtime recently, painting everything in sight it seems, and the sheriff's department is struggling to keep up, said Lt. Ken Sandage.
"We had a big meeting about it a couple weeks, ago. We are getting inundated with graffiti all over town. It probably has the most spikes in our crime report for the calendar year for 2006," he said.
Deputies logged 452 graffiti reports last year and just the first two months of 2007, there have been more than 188 graffiti reports. In 2004, Carson City deputies responded to 184 reports of graffiti.
Claudia Saavedra, community service coordinator for the Department of Alternative Sentencing, is the city's graffiti abatement commander.
It's Saavedra's job to send out community-service workers to cover the marks left behind by gang members and the like throughout the city.
Eight months ago, Saavedra was struggling to raise donations for paint and supplies to keep up with the demand. Since then, the city has given her a budget earmarked for graffiti.
"I get $5,000 a year to buy the paint. At least I have paint now," she said.
But the need continues to rise, and every day Saavedra sends out community-service workers to erase the vandalism.
Not only does the city paint over graffiti on its own property, private- property owners can also take advantage of the abatement program by requesting community-service laborers who will use gray or beige paint. A business can also supply the workers with paint.
Sandage said that's the best way to combat the scourge.
"I think the biggest deterrent to discourage the repeated vandalism, is the persistent removal of the graffiti. Just looking at other agencies, research has shown that persistent removal of graffiti is effective," he said.
And the truth is, Saavedra noted, it's hard to catch a graffiti artist.
"The people that do graffiti are rarely, rarely caught," she said. "What would be an immense help is if people see anything they go ahead and report it."
With that in mind, he said, the department is looking for innovative ways to combat the increase.
"We're coming up with some ideas and new visions to curb graffiti and hopefully abolish it. One idea is of putting the inmates on a chain gang and making those prisoners go out there and clean up that graffiti," Sandage said.
Graffiti charges can range from misdemeanor to felony depending on the cost of damage.
Penalties can include fines, jail time, and those who are convicted can be held responsible for restitution of the property damaged.
According to Sgt. Mark Marshall, the department's gang officer, most of the graffiti in Carson City is generated by gang members advertising their name or insulting a rival gang.
What to do if you witness a tagger
Approximately one-third of graffiti or vandalism cases are not reported to the police. This destruction of property and graffiti costs residents and the city thousands of dollars each year. Here's how you can help:
• Do not approach the subject.
• Contact the Carson City Sheriff's Department at 887-2007.
• Attempt to keep sight of the subject. Give the location of the graffiti in progress.
• Write down the description of clothing, height, weight, age, vehicle, license plate etc. The more details you can provide the better you will assist with the apprehension and prosecution of the taggers.
• The Gang Unit and Graffiti Hotline number is 887-2004 ext. 1610.
• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.