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Graffiti wars

Cops and taggers play a high-stakes game of cat and mouse
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  December 12, 2008

081205_graffiti_main

Slideshow: Illicit art show
Even though he’s headed to prison, SPEK will still be visible in Massachusetts. The Reading-spawned graffiti icon, whose real name is Adam Brandt, has hundreds — if not thousands — of modest scribbles and ornate masterpieces spattered across the Commonwealth. In Salem, which is ground zero for the massive North Shore graf scene — and where he was recently sentenced to four months for tagging and vandalism — his tag is sprayed on dumpsters, brick walls, street signs, and every other type of flat surface imaginable. Barbed-wire fences hardly proved obstacles. As a teeming graffiti force, SPEK rarely encountered train yards and abandoned buildings that he couldn’t infiltrate.

For those reasons, he’s considered by both fellow taggers and law-enforcement officials as one of an elite bunch of exalted bombers — not all of whom are affiliated — who instigated an unusual police action this past December. A dozen town and city police departments joined forces to share information on the region’s heaviest graffiti hitters and hunt them down. While such police cooperation is de rigueur for more serious crimes, it is a brand-spanking-new strategy in the graffiti world. And whereas previously a captured artist/vandal usually faced community-service hours and fines, this new effort — spurred on by angry citizens in communities affected by the graffiti — is targeting an unprecedented number of taggers for jail time.

If SPEK was a Moby Dick of sorts for the consortium of Bay State vice squads, Boston Police Department (BPD) Detective William Kelley and MBTA Police Lieutenant Nancy O’Loughlin have been SPEK’s Ahabs, chasing the outlaw artist for a decade. But SPEK is far from the only big fish reeled in as authorities and community groups have cast a wide net from Marblehead to Dorchester. In October one of SPEK’s rivals, New York graffiti queen UTAH, was charged with 33 counts of tagging for her handiwork around Beantown. UTAH, born Danielle Bremner, is a member of the international crew Dirty 30, who from 2006 to 2007 heatedly competed for visibility with SPEK and his outfit, ITD (Illustrating Total Destruction). That same month, another veteran vandal, Tyson Andree Wells, who’s better known as CAYPE, was sentenced to one year in the South Bay House of Correction.

Exactly 12 months into this far-reaching regional law-enforcement campaign waged by the unofficially dubbed Greater Boston Area Graffiti Task Force, taggers are on the run, and at least five Krylon kings have been nabbed in the largest Bay State graffiti crackdown of this millennium.

After a nearly two-decade cat-and-mouse struggle, it appears that anti-graf cats have finally discovered how to reduce the amount of illegal street art in Eastern Massachusetts. While taggers have for years maintained the upper hand by relocating to neighboring locales when their own hoods got hot, authorities are now wising up. Highly visible taggers like SPEK and CAYPE have become trophy kills for the authorities, and their captures are being trumpeted as a warning to others. It’s a reality that both law-enforcement touts and taggers are willing to concede: for the first time since North Shore communities were overrun with graffiti in the early ’90s, the most prominent players in this local subculture now stand extraordinarily endangered.

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  Topics: News Features , Criminal Sentencing and Punishment, Crime, Federal Bureau of Investigation,  More more >
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11 Comments / Add Comment

don warner saklad

Where around the web are there websites that you can use to figure out the ornamental letters you see around town in graffiti?... it would be nifty to be able to understand the words
Posted: December 04 2008 at 8:02 AM

serious face

What about POSITIVE graffiti crews that do Holiday charity/gift exchange programs for the kids such as:

 SMART CREW CARES ©?

Posted: December 04 2008 at 12:34 PM

stoprealkrimes

stop real crime.. you have kids at the age of 14 doin cocaine where im from. graffiti isnt killing anyone.open your fuc.king eyes.

Posted: December 04 2008 at 11:55 PM

serious face

The thing is that poeple see graffiti as a "gateway" crime.  Kids that do graffiti know that they are breaking the "law"... It eventually leads to shoplifting (paint especially, since they can't buy it).. When they realize how easy it is to steal, they start shoplifting other things and the hunger grows from there...  Drinking, drugs, etc. is all part of the culture.  You can't deny that. 90% of young writers start out to get fame, not to be artists.  Is graffiti a crime?  By definition, YES it is a crime to society.  You look at areas where there is a lot of graffiti and you assume that it is okay to do more graffiti. It's the broken windows theory.  However, the point is that getting rid of graffiti does NOT make neighborhoods safer or any better...  Look at the real estate in neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Brooklyn where it is booming and there is graffiti everywhere.  Then look at North Philly and parts of Baltimore where streets are mostly buffed and look at the crime rate there...

Posted: December 05 2008 at 5:48 PM

Officer Kelley

Since YOU guys wanted to deny the paper the information they wanted, I will give it to the people, you guys want to put writers names on public web sites, so here's your payback. Nancy O, aka Little boy look-a-like, WAS demoted for continuously harassing writers by visiting them at home, making threatening phone calls, and even filing false police reports. How about this.... In the above mentioned article, they mention " THE BEVERLY WALL " - In one incident, Nancy stood across the tracks, at a wall where people are supposed to be ALLOWED to paint, and called for the writers painting the wall to come across the tracks to take pictures, etc. When the writers entered the tracks, she arrested them for Trespassing. Isn't that called entrapment, Nancy? Don't think officer Kelley, aka Freckles is any better. I know of a certain writer who wasn't even writing on anything, and Mr. Kelley decided to pull his gun on him, and said, and i quote, " IF YOU MOVE A FUCKING INCH, I WILL SHOOT YOU " I wonder what Kelley did to get demoted from investigating Homeland Security... It's almost as the Vandal Squad is the B.P.D grave yard. You two are the saddest excuse for police officers. You are supposed to serve and protect - Why not chase real criminals instead of trying to ruin someone's life by putting them in PRISON, for writing graffiti. You call us egomaniac's, look in the fucking mirror.
Posted: December 06 2008 at 4:06 PM

Officer Kelley

Since YOU guys wanted to deny the paper the information they wanted, I will give it to the people, you guys want to put writers names on public web sites, so here's your payback. Nancy O, aka Little boy look-a-like, WAS demoted for continuously harassing writers by visiting them at home, making threatening phone calls, and even filing false police reports. How about this.... In the above mentioned article, they mention " THE BEVERLY WALL " - In one incident, Nancy stood across the tracks, at a wall where people are supposed to be ALLOWED to paint, and called for the writers painting the wall to come across the tracks to take pictures, etc. When the writers entered the tracks, she arrested them for Trespassing. Isn't that called entrapment, Nancy? Don't think officer Kelley, aka Freckles is any better. I know of a certain writer who wasn't even writing on anything, and Mr. Kelley decided to pull his gun on him, and said, and i quote, " IF YOU MOVE A FUCKING INCH, I WILL SHOOT YOU " I wonder what Kelley did to get demoted from investigating Homeland Security... It's almost as the Vandal Squad is the B.P.D grave yard. You two are the saddest excuse for police officers. You are supposed to serve and protect - Why not chase real criminals instead of trying to ruin someone's life by putting them in PRISON, for writing graffiti. You call us egomaniac's, look in the fucking mirror.
Posted: December 06 2008 at 4:13 PM

Officer Kelley

I apologize for the double post.
Posted: December 06 2008 at 4:21 PM

fumunduh

huh

Posted: December 08 2008 at 9:44 PM

tankgirl13

this is dumb.

Posted: December 11 2008 at 1:18 PM

kurisuuira

First, I am a factory worker, not a Police Officer.  I've been ticketed for speeding a few times but harbor no ill-will toward the Police, however I would like some time alone in a steel cage with whoever keeps raising my car insurance.  I understand that if I drive the magic number of miles per hour over the speed limit, my insurance will be the least of my worries.  So I drive responsibly now.

Many people have broken minor laws and ordinances knowingly or not, and most agree that the law has a purpose and a penalty is the only way to ensure that the law is followed.  For most people, their would-be career as a vandal, speeder, shoplifter et cetera ends the first time they get caught or come close to getting caught, and for most, only a stern warning would suffice.  But if they continue to do it, or have done it to a degree where damages exceed certain thresholds, then stiffer penalties are needed to hopefully snap them back to normal behavior or to deter others from joining them.

I've read of one vandal who has $38K in damages/fines stacked against him.  I don't believe that he has the resources to repay that kind of money fast enough to satisfy all or any of the parties involved, but even if he did, what guarantees that he will not do it again?  Unfortunately for everyone involved, a good chunk of that money might be commuted to prison time.  No one wants the kid to go to prison, prison adds to the overall price tag of his crime, but the damage is done and some actions must happen to clean up the mess, restore lost revenue, apologize to the victims, ensure that he does not continue, and warn others who would vandalize to stop or not to start.  There is also the matter of the time and money invested in finding one person out of several million based on four letters on a wall.  I'm afraid that prison, then probation, then restitution, then fines are the only way he and our justice system can make it right.

I don't understand the indignation people show when you call them on their actions.  This is the real world, with consequences you take to the grave.  I know it is hard for a twentysomething to understand.  You do not know yet that the world remembers everything you do and is seldom impressed.  (By the world, I mean the people, places and things that you see and that see you.) If you somehow manage to not get called for your actions, you may feel very smug for a time,  but the world will eventually out you in one way shape or form.  If you build your self-worth off of getting away with being a petty criminal, then your attitude will sound as obnoxious as forced laughter to someone's own joke, told over and over again. 

Posted: December 18 2008 at 2:44 AM
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