Police watching for graffiti vandals

INDEPENDENCE -- Police recently arrested a 14 year-old male in connection with a dozen incidents of graffiti across the city in late 2006.

INDEPENDENCE -- Police recently arrested a 14 year-old male in connection with a dozen incidents of graffiti across the city in late 2006.

The youth had been charged with seven counts of criminal mischief II as of Jan. 26, with "four or five more coming," a police spokeswoman said.

"We know he was responsible for 12 reported cases," Police Chief Vern Wells said. "But who knows how many he was actually involved in."

Independence saw a major rise in graffiti vandalism last year, with 73 reported cases by the end of December. More than have of half of those occurred since September, Wells said.

For comparison, police received four reports of graffiti in 2004 and 13 in 2005.

Investigation is a challenge, as officers are often forced to compare new graffiti "tags" to previously cataloged ones in hopes of finding a pattern or signature.

Crimes often go unsolved unless a person is caught in the act or turned in by a friend.

Wells said this particular suspect was being interviewed on Jan. 19 in connection with a recent burglary when he admitted vandalizing various public and private buildings around town, including Henry Hill Elementary School and facilities owned by Simplot.

The youth's case has since been referred to the Polk County Juvenile Department.

"This is a good example of how one person can cause a great deal of trouble," Wells said.

Wells said the graffiti was gang-related. Independence has seen a resurgence in local gang activity during the past two years.

Much of that has happened in the schools, in the form of threats, intimidation by numbers, dress or posturing. Three separate gangs have been identified in Independence.

Police have refrained from naming them and requested photographs not be taken of gang graffiti because officers say the groups feed off publicity.

Most gang members are in their teens, with some as young as 12 years being initiated. In December, police began more aggressively enforcing the city's curfew laws in response to the problem.

Wells urged residents to quickly report any suspicious behavior in their neighborhoods.

"If you see kids around a wall or in an alley, looking as if they're waiting for people to disappear, we would be much happier to see what they're up to right then," he said, "than have to investigate the graffiti after the fact."

Independence Police Department encourages residents whose properties have been vandalized to report each incident. As soon as police have looked at it, it should be painted over.

For more information: 503-838-1214.


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