Program targets 'taggers'

By Ed Brock

The walls of Crumbley Tire Center in Forest Park are a bulletin board of crime.

In cryptic symbols painted in ugly blue and black, gangs called West Side Via Locos and Brown Side Locos mark their territory and leave messages for their enemies. One gang's symbols are crossed out with a black X and the number "187" written above it.

"That's the California penal code for murder," said Forest Park Police Sgt. Cory Cloud. "They're sending a message with that."

On Saturday the Forest Park Police Department, in cooperation with the Clayton County Juvenile Court and Juvenile Probation, will begin a program they hope will put an end to gang graffiti, known as "tagging."

The program is called Targeting Against Gang Graffiti, or TAGG. The program will conscript juvenile offenders to clean up the graffiti, painting over it with paint that will allow future tagging to be washed away easily.

"Maybe this will teach them a second thought about destruction of public and private property," Forest Park Mayor Chuck Hall said.

Crumbley Tire Center is the site for the kick-off of the new program. Jerry Lamb, the owner of the soon to be closed tire store, said the graffiti that's on his walls now only began appearing after Christmas. It's been worse.

"I painted over it six times last year," Lamb said. "Every time they did it I'd go back the next weekend to paint over it."

Cloud said the "taggers" sometimes sneak in late at night to leave their "messages."

"We have caught some in broad daylight," Cloud said.

While most of the gangs represented in the Crumbley Tire Center graffiti are Hispanic, Cloud said they represent all different ethnic groups. He believes the new program will work because the gang members haven't bothered to repaint graffiti painted over in a community program held a few weeks ago.

On Friday Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske sentenced two 15-year-old boys to participate in Saturday's kick-off program. The TAGG program is an example of what community service programs are all about.

"They're going back to fix the very place they tagged," Teske said. "I told them that Forest Park is taking back its community and this court is going to help them do it."

The juvenile offenders also may have to pay restitution to property owners to cover the cost of the special paint that makes washing the graffiti away easy.