By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer
Graffiti is an occasional problem for Portales police. But finding even one building spray painted can have some business owners seeing red.
Vickie Banister, property manager for Desert Bloom Realty, said she dealt with one incident of graffiti about a month ago and two last summer on the properties she handles. The tagging was in different areas of town.
“The owners are just stuck having to pay for it on their own,” Banister said.
There wasn’t any way to trace the tagger for restitution, she said.
Reporting graffiti is also time consuming for Banister, although she said it’s part of her job and she would do it “10 times over for my owners.” She has to call the police, wait for an officer and give the report.
Owners may need the police report for insurance claims.
Portales police see one or two reports of graffiti a month, and the tagging seems to have gang ties, said a police captain.
Portales tagging – graffiti meant to mark territory – seems to be the work of a few individuals, Capt. Lonnie Berry said, not an organized group.
Berry said graffiti on abandoned buildings, a primary target, may go unreported for months or indefinitey.
The police department took one report of graffiti in February.
Portales doesn’t have a major problem with gangs, and some groups do only tagging, Berry said. Police can tell if graffiti is gang related by such indicators as initials of an area gang or the color of paint.
Portales High School Principal Melvin Nusser said he has occasional problems with graffiti on the inside of the school. He’s seen it in the restrooms two or three times this school year.
Nusser doesn’t believe any of that graffiti is gang related. Maintenance personnel remove the marking as soon as possible once it has been documented.
When police receive a call about graffiti, Berry said, officers record information they glean from the marking.
Police track the “moniker,” or gang name, to see if it’s from somewhere else and what affiliation it has in Portales. Also, Berry said some taggers also use a specific picture or phrase everywhere they mark.
“We always encourage the people who own the property to have (graffiti) removed as quickly as possible,” he said.
If the tagging is gang related, Berry said, it attracts more graffiti to identify the neighborhood as a gang area.
Graffiti carries a misdemeanor charge, which could bring up to a year in jail and a fine.
Avoiding graffiti is difficult, but property owners can make it less likely, Berry said.
“We always recommend lighting and keeping your trees and shrubs trimmed back so there’s no place to hide,” he said.
Some taggers are creative and need time to work, so eliminating places they can hide while they paint make the property less attractive to them.