By Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 11, 2008 - Buoyed by the success of a six-month program to reduce graffiti in Pico Rivera and unincorporated Whittier, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina will ask her colleagues Tuesday to approve a measure allowing authorities to hold taggers -- and their parents -- liable for civil damages.
The new ordinance is part of a broad offensive against vandalism, one she hopes to take countywide, by stepping up enforcement, conducting more specialized prosecutions and hitting violators in the pocketbook through property liens and fines of up to $1,000. When warranted, the measure also would allow authorities to seek felony vandalism charges in court.
Gov. Schwarzenegger signs a law sponsored by the city of L.A. It requires convicted vandals to remove their scrawls and keep walls clean for a year.
"This is tough love all the way around," Molina said. "And we are prepared to go all the way with it and show we mean business."
The thinking behind the approach, Molina said, is to shake up parents and guardians who are in denial about their children's actions, unaware of them or simply don't care. It's another tool to hold the adults accountable, she said.
In Los Angeles County and its unincorporated areas, cleanup crews removed nearly 40 million square feet of graffiti in 2007, up from 21 million square feet in 2004, according to county public works records. The cost of removing the scrawl last year was nearly $30 million.
But Molina, who said that the actual property damage to businesses and public buildings and infrastructure is far higher, said tagging also had led to violence -- and murder.
In one of the most high-profile cases, Robert Whitehead of Valinda was shot to death in 2006 after challenging young gang members he caught crossing out another gang's graffiti on a neighbor's garage. Last year, Pico Rivera grandmother Maria Hicks was gunned down after she honked, flashed her car lights and followed a tagger in her car who had defaced a wall.
The killings led Molina to push for a six-month pilot program in Pico Rivera and the unincorporated areas of South and West Whittier.
L.A. County Sheriff's Capt. Michael J. Rothans said during that period, there were 168 arrests -- including 133 minors -- for tagging that resulted in $345,000 in damage. In Pico Rivera, one suspected graffiti vandal who was arrested last March and goes by the name KAOS was believed to be responsible for tags on 100 locations with an estimated $40,000 in damage.
Rothans said that 41% of the families with suspects under the age of 18 have sought help by agreeing to attend a parenting or intervention program. None of those minors have yet been re-arrested, he said.