H-SANTA MARIA

May 10, 2013 7:02 PM by April Hansen

City crews use high-tech equipement to track graffiti

If you scrawl graffiti on walls or fences in Santa Maria, don't expect it to last long. Plus you may be tracked.

Every year the city's Parks and Recreation Department sends out its graffiti team to clean up more than 70,000 square feet of these writings and drawings. Only a few city employees are assigned to clean up graffiti. KSBY visited a graffiti site at Morrison and Depot.

Years ago, it was easier to get away with drawing on public property and get away with it, but now one quick photo can help track the drawing to its artist and get the attention of the city's graffiti fighters.

You can find it almost anywhere. It can be on a wall, on a train car or even a trash can.

"They are using the wrong canvas. The city walls aren't the canvas they should be using," said Gabriel Velasco of theSanta Maria Parks and Recreation.

So Velasco and his team set out to cover it up or wash it away. But before they do that, they use what's called graffiti tracker: a database to find the artists behind these illegal drawings.

"It's basically a click of a button and we have the information right there in front of us," said Velasco.

They have several hot spots in town they check during the week. When they find graffiti, they use a camera that takes more than just photos.

"The camera will log the date that it is, the location of the graffiti, and the approximate square footage of the graffiti," said Velasco.

They have to document every graffiti sighting in the city. That's almost 400 square feet a day.

The graffiti information is then downloaded into the tracker system to help match it with a known tagger.

"So all we have to do is go into the graffiti tracker program and punch in suspect J and it will come up with all the instances "Subject J" has done," said Velasco.

The team has found nearly 500 markings from just Subject J.

"If we were ever to take that to prosecution we would be owed over $1,000 in restitution," said Velasco.

So next time you see graffiti in your neighborhood, take a photo because it won't be there for long.

Velasco says when police arrest someone for tagging they can punch that person's name into the database.

He says any restitution paid by the tagger goes directly back to the city's general fund, but Velasco says most of the time they just do jail time or community service.

The graffiti program only cleans up graffiti on public property. Private homeowners and businesses are required to clean any graffiti from their own property.

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