During the heyday of L.A.’s gang wars in the late ’90s, crime spilled into the tidy, working-class neighborhoods of this small city in Los Angeles County.
That’s thanks in part to a concerted effort by officials of Paramount’s public safety department to address some of the underlying factors that affect crime rates and to implement strategies to nip lower-level crimes in the bud before they become bigger problems.
One of those gateway crimes is graffiti vandalim. A commonly held theory in criminal justice and policing suggests that visible signs of vandalism, such as broken windows or graffiti, encourage further crime and disorder, whereas an environment that is visibly cared for sends the signal that crime is not tolerated.
“If you have graffiti, you’re not going to attract the hardworking individuals that are going to give to your economy,” said Adriana Lopez, Paramount’s public safety director. “These are the people who want to buy their first home and make sure that their kids are doing well in school. They see graffiti as related to crime.”
In 2009, Paramount recorded an average of about 15,000 graffiti incidents per year, says Anthony Martinez, a management analyst for Paramount’s public safety department. This got the attention of city officials, who began to look for a solution that would help them curtail the problem. They chose to implement Graffiti Tracker, a comprehensive, web-based system that helps police and public works departments document instances of graffiti and upload photos for permanent storage and review by highly-trained staff who analyze and report on any gang information or tagging monikers that can be useful in thwarting violence or apprehending and prosecuting suspects.
“Graffiti Tracker provided that investigative tool that allowed us to identify, prosecute and seek restitution from our most active vandals, whether taggers or documented gang members,” said Martinez. “Some of our deputies that are assigned to address these quality-of-life issues gained the information they needed to start putting cases against them for them for felony vandalism.”
Between 2015 and 2018, Paramount achieved some impressive statistics in their war against crime:
- A 68% reduction in graffiti incidents.
- A 93% 10-year decrease in gang-related crimes.
- A 63% yearly decrease in gang-related crimes.