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Santa Clarita Fights Back Against Graffiti

The City of Santa Clarita won the Grand Prize in the Internal Administration category of the 2007 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information, visit www.cacities.org/helenputnam .

T he City of Santa Clarita is taking strong measures to solve the growing problem of graffiti vandalism and its destructive effect on the community. In the past, Santa Clarita was able to address graffiti at little cost through the efforts of a dedicated volunteer-based organization. However, reported graffiti vandalism more than doubled between 2005 and 2007. In a 12-month period that ended in March 2007, the city received more than 5,000 calls and an
additional 1,000 e-mails from residents requesting graffiti removal in their neighborhoods.

For the past several years, Santa Clarita maintained a 24-hour standard for graffiti removal and aggressively gathered data to help analyze graffiti patterns and enhance communication among community partners involved in addressing the graffiti vandalism issue -- all with the goal of catching and prosecuting the vandals.

Today, Santa Clarita spends more than $500,000 annually to combat graffiti vandalism. These dollars represent wasted scarce resources that could otherwise be used for building park facilities, expanding recreation programming or maintaining roadways.

Challenges Unique to Graffiti

As graffiti vandalism has increased, so has the level of other resources needed to maintain the city’s aggressive zero-tolerance approach to managing this growing regional issue. These resources include personnel, equipment and supplies, contractual help and vehicles. The city and Sheriff’s Department have also had to deal with a changing juvenile court system that was overwhelmed at the countywide level with cases considered far more urgent than prosecuting teens for "simple" graffiti vandalism.

This meant that staff spent more time preparing documentation to convince the District Attorney’s Office to consider pursuing the potential prosecution of such crimes. As a result, it was not unusual for the documentation of one case to consume more then a dozen hours to complete; staff was required to fill out numerous forms, cross-reference literally hundreds of different graffiti
incidents, identify reports and photos that showed similar graffiti monikers, and then share them with law enforcement and other agencies.

Increasing Involvement and Efficiency

The Graffiti Tracking and Prevention System (GTPS) is one of the most important and cost-effective measures the city uses to track and process graffiti vanda lism data. This powerful tool utilizes technology that enhances the city’s ability to partner with law enforcement and the community to combat graffiti vandalism. Developed as a centralized, web-based application, the GTPS allows multiple internal departments and divisions, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and a city-contracted probation officer to manage graffiti removal requests, open cases and generate reports.

The city’s GTPS seamlessly processes the specific information captured when residents submit an online report of graf fiti vandalism and transfers it into the tracking database, eliminating the need for any additional manual data entry. Once a case is entered into the system, field personnel capture and log specific information regarding the actual removal of the graffiti vandalism. Santa Clarita’s GTPS also stores digital photos, enabling staff to capture before and after pictures of the location.

One of the system’s most significant benefits is the city’s ability to directly involve residents, surrounding communities and other agencies in the fight against graffiti. Equally important, the amount of staff time spent administering the graffiti removal program has been reduced, increasing the efficiency and overall ef fectiveness of the city’s graffiti program, which also includes a citizen’s task force, community outreach, a rewards program and volunteer assistance.

Before the GTPS was introduced, one full-time and one part-time employee collectively spent as much as 40 percent of their time focusing solely on tracking graffiti incidents and preparing documentation to be used by the district attorney and Sheriff’s Department in prosecution efforts. Since the GTPS was implemented, the amount of time city staff spends on tracking and documenting has been reduced by 90 percent.

Successful Prosecutions

Furthermore, the ability to easily share information and photos that depict a specific vandal’s moniker or tag has made it much easier to pursue prosecution when individuals responsible for this type of vandalism are caught. Since implement ing the tracking system, the Sheriff’s Department has arrested 175 individuals involved in graffiti, and 100 percent were convicted. In just one instance alone, the city and Sheriff’s Department succeeded in shutting down an entire tagging crew responsible for more than $16,000 in damages in and around the city.

Contact: Kevin Tonoian, technology services manager, City of Santa Clarita; phone: (661) 286-4027; e-mail: ktonoian@santa-clarita.com.