The Seattle Police Department is taking a new approach to crack down on prolific taggers who are responsible for graffiti all over the city: The department has appointed its first full-time graffiti investigator.
In the past, Seattle graffiti cases didn't go very far because detectives were busy with other crimes. But since March, Det. Christopher Young has requested charges on 25 people accused of tagging.
"Now, I'm going to take every case seriously and follow up on them," Young said. "So you need to find another hobby."
KIRO 7 first met Young on Crown Hill last week while working on another story. Young was investigating a wave of graffiti along 15th Avenue Northwest.
This week, KIRO 7 walked through the International District with Young.
"Looks like they tagged right here," he said, pointing out one spot that was hit. "Here's one on the old stone; looks like it's been painted over. It's a real nuisance."
Here, taggers hit easy targets, and even rooftops.
"I don't get it; it doesn't seem worth the trouble," Young said of the tagging.
But with 800 graffiti complaints in the city each year, Young is constantly amazed.
"They're incredibly prolific," he said.
Young's job takes him not just to the city center, but everywhere, including neighborhoods like Queen Anne and Ballard. More than 20 businesses in Crown Hill were hit by a group of taggers last week.
"Ten, eleven years we've been here and we haven't seen it this bad," said Joseph Shin of the New Red Sun Grocery Market.
Young said graffiti in Seattle is rarely gang-related. Instead, taggers are often middle-class men in their twenties with regular jobs.
"It's almost like an extreme sport for them, like bungee jumping," he said. "They're getting a thrill out of doing something illegal."
Despite the recent crackdown, prosecuting graffiti crimes is a challenge. A felony charge requires $750 in damage, which is difficult to prove. That's why most cases end up as misdemeanors.
We'll continue to track whether Young's presence has an impact on the level of graffiti in the city.
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