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Washington Voices

Graffiti reporting site aims to tag vandals

When graffiti painters aimed spray cans at a building on East Sprague Avenue, they probably didn’t imagine the chain of events they’d set off.

The building belongs to Pentad Systems, a Spokane-based software company owned by Randy Nichols. Nichols reported the graffiti to Crime Check, and that’s how he met Deputy Eric Walker of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. Walker is the lone officer in charge of graffiti abatement in Spokane County.

“Deputy Walker and I had lunch together about three months ago,” said Nichols, “and he shared with me that he struggled with some things, among them mapping the graffiti incidents that were reported.”

Nichols offered to build a website that would help Walker – for free – and that’s how was born.

The site came online in June and already has 500 registered users.

It’s a simple concept: Go to the site, create a user account, upload a picture and the address of the graffiti being reported and the website takes care of reporting the graffiti and adding it to a comprehensive map.

“It used to be that people would call Crime Check and Crime Check would give them an email address to send pictures to,” said Walker. “This makes it a much simpler, one-step process.”

Pentad didn’t cut any corners when developing the Web application. When fully functional, the site will be able to map all graffiti incidents using the same technology a smartphone uses to assign a geographic location to a photo taken with a cellphone, email reports and send out a newsletter to users.

“It could send a report to the COPS shop in the neighborhood where the graffiti is,” said Nichols, “or allow Deputy Walker to filter out a certain type of graffiti or tag. That’s how they catch people.”

Walker said they are still tweaking the website.

Pentad also added two years’ worth of data, which Walker had already collected, to the website.

“We can color code the incidents on the map,” said Nichols, “so one color is for gang-related graffiti and another is for tagging.”

Nichols added that if the website is successful, it’s possible that Pentad will turn it into a commercial application and market it to other law enforcement agencies.

“They are still working endlessly to help me and make it better,” said Walker, who’s really happy with the site.

So what happened to the graffiti artist that was hitting Nichols’ building?

“They caught him,” Nichols said.