Society Pays High Price For Taggers

Thursday, December 6th 2007, 2:44 pm
By: News On 6

Vandals are openly bragging about their crimes. They are called taggers and some are so bold they post pictures of their illegal street art online. The News On 6 discovered one website with 46 pages of pictures of illegal graffiti on private buildings, on trains, even highway signs. News On 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright reports graffiti is no longer about gangs, 80% to 90% of it is now done by taggers, people who want to show off their so-called art, but it's still every bit as destructive.

The website shows photos of graffiti on the old Tulsa Club building at 5th and Cincinnati. In person, you can see the taggers broke in and painted on the inside of the windows. The out of state owner has now been ordered to secure the building or face a thousand dollar a day fine. Police tell us that no blank space is safe, whether privately or publically owned.

"It's getting bigger and bigger," said Martin Stewart with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. "At first they started out doing sand barrels, moved to barrier walls, now they're writing on sound walls."

Experts say if you get rid of the graffiti within 24 to 48 hours there's less chance it'll come back. O-DOT responds to graffiti as soon as possible. A picture on the website shows graffiti on traffic barrels near 41st and Sheridan. The state highway department had them freshly painted a short time later. Another picture shows a highway sign over I-44, but it was replaced by O-DOT within a few days. A driver saw someone on the sign, but they were gone when troopers arrived.

"It is very frustrating, especially when we can't catch who's doing it," Martin Stewart said.

All the damage done by graffiti artists is expensive. One section of repair can cost O-DOT $15,000 to sandblast and repaint. That's taxpayer money that could be spent on building safer highways.

"I don't think they care," Martin Stewart said. "To them it's a game, trying not to get caught. One of these days, we are going to catch them. It is a felony and we will take it to the limit on them."

The Tulsa Police Cyber Crimes Unit tells The News On 6 if someone whose property was featured on the website files a report they can subpoena the IP address of that website and track it to a person. They think just the posting of the pictures could equal a confession.

If you see someone tagging state property, call the Oklahoma Highway Patrol at *55 on your cell phone.

Contemporary graffiti, often called "hip hop" or "tagger" graffiti, started in Philadelphia and New York in the 1970s and 1980s. It grew into a subculture whose vocabulary and beliefs were spread nationwide by word of mouth and hip-hop magazines.

Tagger graffiti comprises at least 80% of the nation's graffiti today. Gang graffiti is actually a small amount. Research shows tagger vandals are increasingly members of the middle and upper-middle class of society.

At-risk youth typically pursue tagger graffiti to achieve what the subculture calls "fame." Beginners are called "toys," and they often commit crimes before they even paint the first time, because "racking" paint or stealing it, is often encouraged.

Taggers often refer to their vandalism as "writing" and those who do it are "writers." Taggers use three general forms of graffiti:

  • a simple tag, their moniker or nickname
  • a "throw-up" or bubble writing
  • a "piece" or masterpiece

A "toy" typically makes gradual progress from tags to "pieces" and his "fame" is based on quality of work and the sheer number of tags. They receive extra acclaim for "heavens tags," graffiti placed on a difficult-to-reach place, like a high building, a bridge, or a freeway sign. More than one vandal has fallen from such places and has been severely injured, even killed.

Also, for more visibility, taggers frequently go on "bombing" runs, where a maximum number of targets are hit in an area.

Internet chat rooms allowed a loosely organized group to come together in new ways from far apart and share techniques, tips and ways to get paint and avoid detection by police and/or parents.

Whether people consider "tagging" a crime or an art, most agree, the cost to society is immense, in crimes committed, in cleaning, repainting or replacing the affected areas and in the feeling of a community that appears abandoned and unsafe.

Watch the video: Graffiti Artists Show Off Their Work Online

WEB EXTRA: For more information on tagging, click here.