Graffiti vandals, meet your new foe

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Graffiti vandals beware: Before you mark up that storefront, know that police have started using new software to better track where you will strike next and how many incidents you will be charged with.

The Police Department recently deployed a relatively inexpensive tracking system that sorts information from photographs, incident reports and other intelligence to link graffiti vandals to the monikers and images they leave around The City and beyond.

The software uses mapping technology to help police figure out where and when “taggers” have left their marks. With that information, police can pinpoint where the individual might strike again, said Officer Christopher Putz of the Police Department’s graffiti unit.

The technology also allows The City to monitor graffiti cleanup and organize evidence against vandals, he said.

On Oct. 2, officers made their first arrests using the system, which cost The City around $5,000 to buy and will cost about $700 annually to maintain, Putz said.

Two vandals who spent several afternoons scribbling on a pedestrian overpass in the Ingleside neighborhood were caught after officers used the software to help plan a stakeout of the area, he said.

San Francisco’s most graffiti-covered neighborhoods include SoMa, Mission and Lower Haight, Putz said.

“We just started to load information and are becoming more familiar with it,” he said. “You got to put good stuff into it to get good stuff out of it.”

Police officers are photographing and documenting graffiti around town, but they also rely on residents to send incident reports. Graffiti removal specialists with the Department of Public Works are already tasked with photographing and reporting incidents, department spokeswoman Christine Falvey said.

The new software “is going to allow us to do that quickly and more efficiently,” Falvey said. “At a time of budget cuts, we can’t afford spending millions of dollars every year painting over graffiti.”

The SFPD is following the lead of the San Jose Police Department. In that city, the tracking software recently helped police bust a San Jose man who was booked on 67 counts of vandalism, including 45 felonies, Putz said.

Police hope more Bay Area departments start using the technology so vandals that visit San Francisco from out of town can be better tracked.

And, police aren’t the only ones tackling taggers. Last week, a citywide volunteer group began offering training to those who want to take matters into their own hands and clean up graffiti right after it happens.

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