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ANTI-GRAFFITI PROGRAM EYES EXPANSION AFTER SOLID YEAR.

Byline: Dan Laidman Staff Writer

An experimental anti-graffiti program reduced gang tags by 62 percent in one year in the neighborhoods west of downtown, and officials said Monday the project should be expanded citywide.

Councilman Eric Garcetti attributed the drop to a campaign involving security cameras and volunteer block captains who arranged for rapid repainting. He said he will push for more money in the next budget cycle for other communities to implement the plan.

``The best thing we can do with graffiti is to continue to stay on top of it and make sure as soon as it comes up, it comes down,'' said Garcetti, whose district encompasses Echo Park, Silver Lake and parts of Hollywood.

Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton joined Garcetti in announcing the results of Uniting Neighborhoods to Abolish Graffiti, or UNTAG. Graffiti removal is an integral part of the ``broken windows'' theory of policing, he said, in which authorities focus on small-scale quality of life issues to deter more serious crime.

``A lot of what you see on the walls is oftentimes gangs spreading a message,'' Bratton said. ``It's not just a kid on the way home with a can of spray paint.''

The city already sponsors graffiti-removal programs, including several in the San Fernando Valley. The effort in Garcetti's district is different in that it involves a large number of coordinated neighborhood volunteers and numerical goals for reduced tagging.

When UNTAG began last year, Garcetti and his staff fanned out around his district and counted 20,763 tags. They then organized a network of 100 block captains who agreed to report graffiti as soon as it appeared.

The city and private businesses paid to install security cameras at graffiti hot spots. A year later, Garcetti's staff counted 7,970 tags in the district.

``It's been so successful we're going to take the program citywide,'' said Cynthia Ruiz, a member of the Los Angeles Public Works Commission.

The Department of Public Works contracts with the crews that paint over graffiti. With volunteer block captains, the main expenses of expanding UNTAG would be security cameras and community outreach.

The City Council has already allocated $500,000 to expand UNTAG, Garcetti said, though he plans to seek more money later in the year.

Jon Eshbach, who directs the Graffiti Busters program of the Sun Valley Area Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the expansion of UNTAG, as long as it takes into account the needs of various neighborhoods.

Graffiti Busters, which has three full-time employees and one part-timer, wipes out tags and removes large items of trash under a city contract. It relies on calls from neighbors, Eshbach said, so the UNTAG block captain system could be a benefit.

``I'm sure they would be able to keep an eye on things and see things the others have not seen,'' he said. ``And if that helps clean up the neighborhood, that would be good.''

Dan Laidman, (213) 978-0390

dan.laidman(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Aug 16, 2005
Words:494
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