Taggers beware, Millbrae warns

The city has begun its war on vandalism and it is not just targeting the city’s youth.

Millbrae Mayor Gina Papan has launched a zero-tolerance policy on graffiti, which will result in the automatic arrest of anyone caught drawing, tagging, spraypainting or committing any type of vandalism within the city.

“We will arrest, prosecute and seek restitution from any offender,” said Papan, a former state deputy attorney general. “If they choose tagging, we’re coming down hard.”

But for the first time in city history, parents will also be held accountable for the vandalism. Parents will have to start paying bills that can jump into the thousands of dollars when their kids are nabbed for graffiti. Teens are the vast majority of offenders, police said, and as part of the policy, parents of those arrested will have to pay for the damages to the vandalized property, which can reach more than $1,000 and result in felony charges.

By comparison, the county enforces its graffiti ordinance on a case-by-case basis, Sheriff’s Sgt. Linda Gibbons said.

The breaking point for the new policy, which is effective immediately, came on June 4 after police caught two 17-year-old boys who were allegedly responsible for $4,000 to $5,000 of graffiti damage during a four-day span, authorities said.

One of the boys has been arrested while the case of the other alleged offender is being reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office, said David Chetcuti, a graffiti analyst with Millbrae police. The boy arrested admitted to also vandalizing property in Burlingame and San Bruno, he said.

The new restitution policy will force parents to keep track of their kids and educate them about the dangers of vandalism, Papan said. The city is also expanding after-school programs and “legal” art classes for students to prevent them from getting into the graffiti habit, she said.

Millbrae police have solved more than half of the 68 reported cases of graffiti in the city thus far this year, which have caused an estimated $10,000 to $12,000 in damage, Chetcuti said.

Because of its small police force, the city uses several police volunteers, including Walter Gladwin, to check the city for graffiti three times per week and even stage stakeouts to help catch offenders. The city first starting cracking down on graffiti in 2000, when current councilman and then-mayor Dan Quigg helped started an abatement program during which officials would paint over the vandalism with the same colored paint as the original surface.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

Graffiti has been a problem in Millbrae this year.

» 68: Reported cases of graffiti this year

» $10,000 to $12,000: Damage to city property by graffiti artists this year

» More than 50 percent: Graffiti cases solved this year

» June 4: Date police caught two boys, each 17, for graffiti

» $4,000 to $5,000: Damage to city property allegedly caused by the two boys

» 2000: Year city started graffiti-abatement program

*Source: City of Millbrae

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