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Mayor Antonio Villarai-gosa joined members of the Los Angeles Police Department, and other city officials last Friday to launch the Tracking and Automated Graffiti Removal System (TAGRS), a citywide graffiti tracking program that will use smartphone photos of graffiti to gather evidence and apprehend vandals.
“TAGRS is an innovative, citywide anti-graffiti program that gets at the root of the problem—the criminals who tag,” Villaraigosa said. “Graffiti blights neighborhoods, devalues property and has no place in our communities. By using smartphones to gather evidence, the LAPD will be able to track graffiti and apprehend the criminals who vandalize our city.”
TAGRS allows graffiti cleaning crews to take photographs of graffiti tags with smartphones. Those photos will then be uploaded to an LAPD database and used to gather evidence for prosecution and restitution.
“This database will help our law enforcement and city partners team-up to ID, arrest and prosecute the worst taggers and tagging crews in the city,” said Councilmember José Huizar, 14th District.
The program raises safety issues as clean up crews may be put in harms way.
According to Erik Sanjurjo, the City of Los Angeles Policy Director, cleanup crews may wear bulletproof vests if the program proves too dangerous, or the sheriffs will be given the task of photographing graffiti.
“Father Boyle’s people [when cleaning up graffiti] have been shot on the east side so safety is a concern,” Sanjurjo said.
Public Works graffiti abatement contractors have been trained to access the system using more than 90 new smartphones. The total cost of the program is $345,000 over two years.
Amidst the controversy surrounding the city’s official use of cell phones, including the total number of cell phones issued to city employees, or the exact cost the city is paying for the use of the phones, supporters of the program insist it is money well spent. Sprint donated the 92 smartphones to be used for the TAGRS program; however, the cost of phone usage will be $75,000 a year.
Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel is currently conducting a city audit on city-issued cell phones. It is estimated that the city spends $5 million a year on cell phones used by employees.
“Combating graffiti is absolutely essential in our city and I commend Public Works for finding more efficient methods using the latest technology to do so,” said Claire Bartels, Los Angeles Chief Deputy Controller. “I am equally concerned about the costs associated with maintaining technology and this is why I’m finalizing an audit of the city’s use of cell phones to ensure we have appropriate controls built in to contracts and that we monitor their usage and control costs. I look forward to sharing the findings of my audit next month.”
According to Sanjurjo, the money for the use of the smartphones is coming from federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, one of the longest-running programs of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The grant funds local community development activities such as anti-poverty programs, but Sanjurjo insists this is a sound investment regardless of where the money comes from.
“The district attorney will prosecute taggers criminally and will sue to recover costs for cleanup, so this is a one-two punch,” Sanjurjo said. “We will make money in the long run.”
Huizar is a strong supporter of the program.
“The city uses $10 million a year in clean up costs so paying for cell phones is a drop in the hat,” said Huizar spokesperson Rick Coca. “This is a fantastic investment under any scenario. It more than pays for itself.”
The TAGRS database system is now fully operational with plans to eventually expand to the Wilshire area and Hollywood, with all 17 police divisions to follow.
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