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Graffiti: The Problem

The City of San Diego spends more than $1 million each year on graffiti abatement education and enforcement. This amount does not include the millions more spent by other public agencies, utility companies, and private property owners to remove graffiti from their properties. Nationwide, the American public spends nearly $12 billion each year to fight graffiti.

Children and Young Adults

Children and young adults become involved in graffiti vandalism for a number of reasons: gang association, peer recognition, lack of artistic and recreational alternatives, the element of danger, and lack of appropriate parental supervision and discipline.

Gang Graffiti

Gang graffiti is usually limited to a specific home turf claimed by the gang. It is primarily used as a warning to other gangsters to stay out of their territory. Gang graffiti is also used to boast of crimes committed or weapons carried by the members.


Graffiti does not mean that gangs are in your neighborhood! The vast majority of graffiti in San Diego is written by "taggers." A tagger writes his or her nickname ("tag") so that it will be seen by his or her peers. Taggers vandalize all parts of the city, and are not necessarily tied to a specific neighborhood. Taggers are usually part of a group called a "crew." Tags can be recognized by their particular style, which consists only of the tagger and/or crew name. Tag names are typically one short word, like "BUSTER," and crew names are usually three or four initials, such as "RLP." Taggers thrive on placing their tag names on as many and as dangerous places as possible. The objective of tagging is peer recognition: the tagger gains more notoriety the longer the tag is "up." Quick removal of graffiti is important because it discourages more tagging.

In some parts of the country, taggers have started to mimic gangs by becoming increasingly violent. Besides stealing most of the materials they use to tag (it is illegal to sell spray paint to minors), many vandals have started to carry weapons to protect themselves from gangs or rival tagging crews. This alarming new phenomenon is called "tag-banging," and while it is widespread in some cities, it is not yet common in San Diego.