It may be a subdivision of middle- to upper-class homes with tightly manicured lawns, but lately Spokane Valley’s Ponderosa neighborhood has been looking like a tattooed tramp.
Graffiti mars the subdivision’s entryway at Schaffer and Dishman-Mica roads. The damage starts on an east-facing chain link fence bordering some railroad tracks and winds more than 100 feet to the community’s gateway. There, suburbanites streaming into the neighborhood are greeted by white poofy letters exclaiming “Bomb The World,” though the only person really being blasted is builder Dennis Crapo.
In six weeks, vandals have destroyed Crapo’s $25,000 fence, not all of which can simply be painted over. Other corners of the Spokane Valley have also been getting ink done, most notably Centennial Middle School near Broadway Avenue and Park Road, where someone painted a giant crucifix complete with a racial slur last week.
The problem is only going to get worse if neighbors don’t band together and do something, Crapo said.
“We’re either going to own our town, or the people defiling it are going to own it,” said Crapo, who suspects the vandals painting his fence are somehow tied to a motocross track that’s cropped up on some vacant land to the north of where he’s building a few houses and duplexes.
The track has become a weekend hub for teenagers, dirt bikes, alcohol and garbage. The graffiti also seems to show up on the weekend. Police do not suspect the graffiti is gang related. Very little of the graffiti in the Spokane area is done by gangs.
“Graffiti here isn’t like graffiti in Los Angeles where most of it is done by gangs,” said Sgt. Michael Kittilstved, with the Spokane City/County Gang Enforcement Team. “Our hardcore gangsters aren’t spray painting stuff. They’re busy selling dope and trafficking weapons. They don’t want the attention.”
Stopping graffiti is tough, Kittilstved said, because the crime is random and usually done at hours when witnesses are hard to come by. In the past, the crime was also a tough one to track because of its prevalence and because just documenting incidents meant pulling officers off crimes of more serious consequence.
Law enforcement started getting a better handle on graffiti in the last year or so as they trained volunteers with the Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Effort and the Community Oriented Policing Service of Spokane. Most of the graffiti recorded for trend analysis is done by volunteers now. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office also rolled out a new graffiti reporting number this year, 474-4264.
Reporting graffiti right away is the most important thing the public can do to thwart vandals, Kittilstved said. After a COPS or SCOPE volunteer photographs the damage, the graffiti should be quickly painted over. Graffiti left alone just attracts more graffiti.
Law Enforcement then takes the graffiti symbols recorded by volunteers and shares them with resource officers at public schools. School administrators are asked to keep an eye out for symbols resembling graffiti in their area.
In Spokane Valley, property owners are not required to clean up after vandals, but they are encouraged to do so, said Carolbelle Branch, city spokeswoman. The rules are different in Spokane, which has an ordinance calling on property owners to clean up damage. Kittilstved said to his knowledge no one has been cited for not cleaning up graffiti.