Since forming a special task force targeting vandalism in Atwater, authorities say that they’ve cleared more than 70 cases, made numerous arrests and dismantled at least one “tagging crew” responsible for thousands of dollars in damages.
Atwater police estimated total damages for all the cases at between $10,000 and $12,000.
Purely Storage in the 200 block of Gertrude Avenue has been the business most frequently targeted by vandals, sustaining more than $4,000 in damages in recent months, police said.
One juvenile was found to have caused at least $2,500 to $3,000 in damages, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest, police said in a news release.
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Atwater police have arrested Oscar Moreno-Alamo, 20, in connection with much of the damage to the storage facility. Officers believe Moreno-Alamo was one of the leaders of a graffiti crew with connections in Atwater and Winton. Police reported finding more than 2 pounds of marijuana and nearly 50 spray paint cans when Moreno-Alamo was arrested.
Officers believe they have completely dismantled a separate crew of vandals. Two people, including a juvenile, were arrested in connection with more than $2,000 in damages, police said.
Police in Atwater and Merced reported dramatic spikes in graffiti crimes over the summer.
Atwater police assembled the antivandalism unit during that period with funds from a voter-approved half-cent sales tax.
Officers have noted that not all graffiti is gang-related and that some graffiti crews vandalize just for recognition among taggers.
Police said there are indications they are making some progress in the fight against graffiti in Atwater.
Most of those taken into custody have said that they will stop doing graffiti after being arrested and many are working to pay off restitution in connection with their cases, according to police.