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Taggers Beware: The Writing Is on the Wall

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Technology Volume: 32 Issue: 9 Dated: September 2005 Pages: 194,196,198,199
Douglas Page
Date Published
September 2005
4 pages
Based on a study of gang graffiti in Carson, CA, this article identifies and explains the various functions of gang graffiti, suggests how graffiti analysis can provide evidence in gang-related cases, and profiles computer software that has been developed to assist in such an analysis.
Timothy Kephart's analysis of some 450 gang graffiti photographs in the Carson area revealed 5 forms of graffiti communication: "publicity," "roll call," "territorial," "threatening," and "sympathetic." "Publicity" gang graffiti, the most frequent type, contains the name or abbreviation of a gang. "Roll call" graffiti, the next most frequent type, contains the gang name and a list of gang monikers. "Territorial" graffiti, the third most frequent type, contains a symbol that marks a gang's territory, typically in the form of an arrow pointing down. "Threatening" graffiti, which composes only 9 percent of graffiti, contains some sort of threatening message to a rival gang or to police. "Sympathetic" graffiti, the least observed, honors a slain gang member, usually in the form of an "RIP." This article explains how each of these types of graffiti can be useful to police and prosecutors in gang-related cases. Kephart's research led him to develop two software tracking packages: Graffiti Analysis/Intelligence Tracking System (GAITS) and Vandal Apprehension/Graffiti Reduction Program (VanGraff). GAITS extracts intelligence information from graffiti photographs and stores it in conjunction with the photo. This article explains how Kephart's methods of comparing graffiti to known gang members in Carson led to the dismantling of the second largest graffiti ("tagging") crew in the area.