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Graffiti has existed since the beginning of time in one form or another, from hieroglyphics to petroglyphs to rock outcroppings along the Oregon Trail. However, today's brand of spray-painted self-expression is viewed less as art and more as an eyesore to motorists and property owners who must view it, or worse, remove it.
In the second half of the 20th century, urban gangs began using graffiti as a territorial marker. This practice, known as "tagging," continues today, but is now practiced by people unaffiliated with gang activity as well.
Young males between 13 and 25 create most of the graffiti that's out there. A "tagger" will usually use a pen, marker, or spray-paint to put a unique design in a public place. The design will be proprietary to the tagger and may be initials, an illustration, or a combination of numbers and letters that is unique -- like a signature. Most tags represent the tagger's nickname, and tend to be short so as to make them easier to complete quickly.
Tagging in its most basic form is nothing more than advertisement for its author. Promience, difficulty, and proliferation of one's tag gain the author status in the tagging community. Individual taggers or "tagging crews" of friends account for most of the graffiti you may see. In one incident, the Sheriff's Office caught a tagging crew spray-painting an underpass; they were carrying digital cameras to document their activities and share with their friends.
Graffiti can also be simple vandalism or criminal mischief. While tagging is serial in nature, vandalism is not. Tagging is an ongoing effort to place one's signature in multiple locations; vandalism is usually a single occurrence. Vandalism can be used to express political views or personal feelings, or to display one's artistic talents on a public canvas. This type of graffiti can vary from "Billy loves Sally" carved into a picnic table to large colorful artistic wall murals.
Vandals may also deface property for the sake of defacing it. Markings from vandalism may not be any recognizable signature -- just a message or a mess of paint.
Gangs use graffiti to mark territory and as a way to communicate both internally and externally. Gang graffiti is usually simple, as its authors are more interested in marking territory and communicating short messages than they are in artistic expression.
A tag created by a gang member features the name of his gang. Tag wars occur when members of another gang use another color to cross it out and leave their own tag. Gangs undergo this process to claim their turf. The more artistic the image, the more likely it's the work of a tagger crew and not a gang. Gangs don't bother as much with art; they are concerned only about making their presence known.
About 70 percent of graffiti in Jeffco is tagging that is not gang related. The Sheriff's Office views graffiti as a crime, as well as a quality-of-life issue for residents. In addition to making arrests for criminal mischief when possible, the Sheriff's Office documents graffiti in an attempt to identify taggers. Because of the serious crimes perpetuated by organized criminal organizations (gangs), the Sheriff's Office closely monitors all gang related activity.
Report new graffiti to the Sheriff's Office as soon as you see it by calling our non-emergency number: 303-277-0211. The Sheriff's Office will send a crime scene technician to photograph the graffiti so that we can try to identify the tagger, as well as analyzing it to determine if it's an indication of gang activity.
A property owner is responsible for graffiti on his or her own property. If your property or business is affected by tagging, your best course is to paint over the markings as soon as possible (after contacting the Sheriff's Office to document the incident), to discourage tag wars on your property and the surrounding area.
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