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Anderson looks to curb growing graffiti problem

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One person's art is another's hassle. But graffiti usually turns out to be costly for everyone, as taxpayers ultimately pay the bill to have the designs erased.

Graffiti can be a problem for any larger municipality, but there are signs that "tagging," as it's also called, is on the rise in Anderson. Business owners are often stuck with the repair work, and the city is charged with painting over graffiti in public places. While some tagging is artful, it is generally deemed unsightly, and according to police, can even indicate a gang presence.

About six downtown Anderson businesses were vandalized sometime between 10:30 p.m. on May 8 and 1:30 a.m. May 9, according to local business owner Claudette Bettencourt. She said the estimated damage from the vandalism could be in the hundreds of dollars if businesses try to match the paint where the graffiti was placed. She said she's concerned, but also that city officials have been very responsive to her complaints.

Bettencourt owns Your Way Cafe at 1023 Meridian St. and is a member of the Historic Downtown Merchants Association.

"These are the ones we found so far, there could be more, we don't know," she told The Herald Bulletin of Anderson. "Ironically, if you are standing at the alley between Conscious Creations, Your Way Cafe and Cabbage Rose, you are in full view of the police department through the parking lot."

In an email to Bettencourt, Anderson Police Chief Larry Crenshaw said graffiti was recently a problem in northern areas of Anderson, but "the entire city has experienced and seen an increase of graffiti tagging as well."

Crenshaw said he plans to attend the next meeting of the newly formed merchants association on June 3.

In her correspondence with the city, Bettencourt said the association plans to discuss camera security systems at the businesses and suggested using a vacant building or city-owned building as a canvas for local residents to participate in a graffiti art contest. She said at the end of each monthly contest, paint could be donated from local companies to paint over the wall.

APD public information officer Joel Sandefur said graffiti can signify anything from a prank to gang affiliation, and the department has a convention for documenting and investigating each case.

"We always try to identify who might have done it, where it's coming from, that sort of thing," Sandefur said. "Some might be a message, some might be art, some might be marking gang territory."

Sandefur said at least one of the tags investigated downtown on Meridian Street was gang-affiliated, namely from a Mexican gang called Surenos 13. Sandefur said there could be an actual presence in the city, or it could simply be the work of "wannabes."

"They can be menacing, but the best thing we can do is paint over it as soon as possible," Sandefur said. "The longer it's left up, the more empowered they might be to do it again. It's quite a task to continue to do that, but we need to stay on top of it."

Sandefur said there aren't any solid leads on the latest rash of tagging, but the department has a pool of suspects known to be involved in graffiti, and the cases are constantly being investigated. Mayor Kevin Smith said he's pleased with the proactivity of Anderson Police Department when it comes to this form of vandalism.

"Periodically we have this problem. It's ongoing, and not a singular place. Obviously, it's in places beside Anderson," Smith said. "Generally, we encourage property owners to remove it as soon as possible."

Sandefur said the best tool police have in tracking down suspects is tips from the public. He encouraged anyone with knowledge of tagging to contact APD or call 911.

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