Vandalists were here

Specialized graffiti tracking software helps police show gangs and taggers the writing on the wall

"Upon the discovery of a graffiti suspect identity, the information will be added to TAGRS," explains Ramin Aminloo, the system's developer. "Any future searches of TAGRS might reveal or uncover further graffiti incidents involving the same suspect." If an agency is connected to its county jail system, investigators can use mug shots and inmate information, too.

Auto complete fields, lookup tables and drop-down menus enable officers and other government employees to finish reporting quickly and efficiently.

Not only does TAGRS provide reports on individuals; it also reports on cost analysis and graffiti trends. A reporting feature includes GIS mapping, which uses GPS coordinates to generate a map of the incident area so investigators and shift commanders can see hotspots.

Integrated intelligence

In addition to jail records management systems, CAD or RMS data can be used. TAGRS' programmers build custom interfaces to make the system work with proprietary solutions -- including LINX and COPLINK, intelligence systems in use in southern California. Because TAGRS is specialized graffiti tracking meant to help other city agencies in addition to law enforcement, it only pushes certain information -- suspect name and moniker -- to the intelligence software, rather than pulling information from it or providing every detail to those systems. Otherwise Aminloo says the systems would be too redundant.

In addition, e-mail support within TAGRS enables investigators to share information. This detail may seem trivial, but previously investigators had to use the phone and often ended up playing phone tag with each other. Contact information for every designated graffiti investigator in the various agencies is included, along with a general bulletin board for more widespread information sharing among agencies on the system.

Finally, a graffiti analysis service is available from contractors who, though they do not have direct access to TAGRS intelligence, work with the law enforcement agencies that hire them.

Use outside OCSD

A number of other law enforcement and public works agencies use TAGRS such as the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CALTRANS, and numerous smaller agencies and public works departments.

Because the system is free, law enforcement agencies do not have to purchase their own servers for data storage. Instead Aminloo says regional nodes (typically located in each county) have their own servers. "All smaller police departments can connect to a major node, but it is all up to the individual agency how they use TAGRS. They can share with other agencies and split the cost," he explains. This arrangement is similarly modeled to other intelligence systems, as is the agency's ability to restrict access to information viewed by other agencies.

In Costa Mesa, for example, the gang investigation unit is tied to the OCSD node. "We only analyze our own cases," says Chamness. "But we have access to incidents from all the other cities." Because prosecutions take place at the county level, the ability to establish victims from any jurisdiction in the county is important. (Outside the county, Chamness notes the suspect would be tried where the crime was committed, which can become complicated.)

TAGRS programmers customize the system according to each jurisdiction's needs, including by request. Chamness says this works to the system's advantage because it incorporates the needs of prosecutors and law enforcement at various levels. In addition to integration with CAD, RMS or other systems, the system can incorporate custom graffiti removal costs.

Training takes about 2 hours. Chamness together with two public works abatement specialists learned how to use handheld devices to enter and upload pictures and data.

In Fountain Valley, TAGRS improved public works' documentation process. Simko says previously the city's abatement specialist had to hand write information, and police would have to sift through those paper records to make cases. They were also duplicating efforts, with public works documenting for removal purposes, and police documenting for victims.

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