SAN DIEGO–Graffiti Tracker, a Web-based service that allows users to share and analyze photographs of vandalism taken with GPS-enabled cameras, is helping law enforcement countywide to better document graffiti crimes and identify the most prolific offenders, a new report by San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has found.
Since the County of San Diego expanded Graffiti Tracker last year from three agencies to a total of 13 as part of a regional pilot program, court-ordered restitutions for graffiti cases have risen dramatically from $170,626 in 2010 to $783,412 in 2011. This represents a 579 percent increase in restitutions ordered for adult vandals and a 200 percent increase in restitutions ordered for juvenile vandals.
These statistics suggest that regional information sharing made possible by Graffiti Tracker is enabling law enforcement to build stronger cases against the worst offenders. Vandals often don’t just stay in one jurisdiction, but are responsible for property damage in multiple cities and unincorporated areas.
“Graffiti Tracker is an effective tool for law enforcement as they combat an expensive problem that causes millions of dollars in property damage each year,” SANDAG Director of Criminal Justice Research Dr. Cynthia Burke said.
“Because of this high-tech program, law enforcement agencies from Oceanside to Chula Vista are able to share intelligence on taggers and gangs. Investigators can search a database to identify patterns and link graffiti to specific vandals,” Burke said.
The SANDAG report, entitled ”Graffiti Tracker: An Evaluation of the San Diego County Multi-Discipline Graffiti Abatement Program,” found that a total of 82,482 graffiti incidents, or about 226 incidents per day, were documented in Graffiti Tracker across the region in 2011. The annual cost of removing this graffiti, which covered almost 619,000 square feet, is conservatively estimated at almost $16 million. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the graffiti incidents in the region are described as tagging, as opposed to gang-related.
The report provides a breakdown of graffiti incidents and removal costs by jurisdiction.
First implemented by the City of Escondido in 2006, Graffiti Tracker has grown to become a regionwide program over the past year. The participating agencies are: Carlsbad, Chula Vista, Coronado, El Cajon, Escondido, La Mesa, Metropolitan Transit System (MTS), National City, North County Transit District (NCTD), Oceanside, Port of San Diego, San Diego, and the Sheriff’s Department.
Survey feedback revealed that 94 percent of the system’s users would recommend continued use of the tool by their jurisdiction.
The pilot expansion of Graffiti Tracker is set to end June 30 after an 18-month trial period, but the County of San Diego is working to extend the program for another year. County Supervisor Greg Cox has been working with SANDAG to maintain the program on a regional basis.
Here is how Graffiti Tracker works: Participating agencies are equipped with GPS-enabled cameras to take photographs of graffiti in their jurisdictions. The images are then uploaded into a centralized database to enable sharing of intelligence. Investigators can use Graffiti Tracker to generate reports that include statistics and information about group monikers, location and size of incidents, trends or paths of damage, migration of vandals, and arrest information.
According to law enforcement officials, systems such as Graffiti Tracker can enhance their ability to identify taggers and gather evidence for prosecution of multiple acts of vandalism, as well as provide expert analysis and intelligence toward identifying gang members and coded messaging about other illegal street activities.
Led by the County of San Diego and coordinated with the help of SANDAG, Graffiti Tracker is funded by participating agencies, as well as private donors, including AT&T, SDG&E, and Cox Cable.