Cornelius police and residents work to tackle graffiti issue
Mar 05, 2013 (The Oregonian - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A short tour beyond the main streets of Cornelius turns up numerous, easily spotted stains of black, red or blue spray paint. Some of the graffiti appears on otherwise unmarked fences; some is scrawled over layers of old street script.
Officer Dustin DeHaven, a graffiti expert with the Cornelius Police Department, said there are two kinds of graffiti: those done by taggers, street artists looking for notoriety, and those done by gang members. Most graffiti in Cornelius is gang-related.
"It's the newspaper of the street," DeHaven said. "So if something is going on between several gangs, if a situation flares up, there's a good chance you'll see more graffiti. It's trash talk with paint cans."
Now, police and residents are both working to tackle the problem.
For the last four years or so, Cornelius police have been recording graffiti instances in large binders. But complaints, which come in through an online form available on the city's website, by email and phone, haven't always made it to the right place.
Laura Christy, support specialist with the Police Department, has begun to streamline the records. Since Feb. 13, all code violations, including graffiti and other public health dangers, have gone through Christy. She enters the information into a database and refers the complaint to the correct person in the department.
"This way, we can track the complaint so none get forgotten about," Christy said.
Additionally, members of the Community Oriented Policing Citizen Advisory Board started a citizens patrol group in January to help police document graffiti and other code violations.
Trained citizens drive around town, photograph violations and write up police reports, which are forwarded to Christy. So far, they have recorded 23 instances of graffiti in the city.
The goal is to free up police time and tax dollars spent on the task, which can be done just as easily by civilians, said COPCAB board chairwoman Billie Crowder.
DeHaven said most of the gangs in Cornelius are Latino and became prevalent in the early 1990s after trickling up from California. It has been a couple years since the city last witnessed a gang-on-gang shooting, he said, but fights with other weapons are common and that violence could spread to bystanders.
"Gangs are going to be violent with each other, but my concern is when that bullet hits a house," DeHaven said.
Graffiti is one way gang members talk to each other and mark their territory, he said. If that conversation is quickly broken, violence could be less likely.
Owners or occupants of property in Cornelius are required to remove graffiti within seven days. Failure to do so could be punishable by a fine of up to $150.
City Manager Rob Drake said Cornelius residents are extremely interested in controlling graffiti. It looks ugly, he said, and is frightening to some.
"Graffiti can also be a weapon of fear," Drake said. "We don't want that. We want a community that feels good."
To report instances of graffiti, visit www.ci.cornelius.or.us and click on the "Report Graffiti Form" tab, or call 503-629-0111.
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