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Gang members tag Legion Park with graffiti — again

Police suspect vandalism may be sign that Sureños are trying to claim park

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Posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 12:00 am

For the second night in a row, gang members defaced buildings, sidewalks and other surfaces around Lodi’s American Legion Park.

And the city is upset.

Earlier story

Police and city staff are looking at an array of options to minimize the problem. But while they look for new solutions, they have a promise for those responsible: “We’re going to step things up,” said Jeff Hood, Lodi’s Park, Recreation and Cultural Services director, “and we’re going to catch the people doing this.”

Police believe Sureño gang members have been responsible for all the recent graffiti at Legion Park. However, it’s the only park that’s seen a recent spike in gang-related vandalism, Lodi Police Sgt. Tim Fritz said.

“It’s unusual in the sense that it’s been picking up to this extent,” Fritz said. “We’ll see it periodically, but it will ease back down. But for whatever reason, someone has picked this park and set their mind to putting up as much graffiti as possible.”

The typical targets for gangs are Samuel D. Salas, Hale and Blakely parks, Fritz said.

But now that one gang seems to have chosen new turf, police are trying to prevent the spree from continuing.

Vandals struck despite increased police presence around the park Monday night and early Tuesday morning. But Fritz said police haven’t considered staking out the park throughout a night, yet.

Hood said the city is tired of seeing its park vandalized.

“(The graffiti is) probably worse this time around than it’s been since I’ve been here,” he said. “And we’re getting fed up.”

City officials met Monday with a security company to discuss installing security cameras around the park.

The city is also considering adding lights and painting the brick bathroom structure, which would make graffiti easier to remove.

“It’s not something we’re going to solve overnight,” he said. “It’s a societal problem. You can’t prevent it, but we’ll minimize it.”

Graffiti has long been a problem in Stockton, said Officer Joseph Silva, spokesman for the Stockton Police Department.

“Historically we’ve always had graffiti here in Stockton, whether it’s in parks, vacant buildings or alleyways,” he said.

As it has worsened, Stockton created a graffiti hotline, which citizens can call when they spot graffiti or see vandalism in progress.

Silva added that some businesses have pooled their money in order to purchase security cameras, and with that footage, police have been able to arrests vandals.

In recent years, graffiti occurs at a steady rate, and it’s found all over Stockton.

“Unfortunately, you do see tags all throughout the city,” Silva said.

On Tuesday morning, for the second day in a row, Nick Romero spent hours trying to remove paint from several surfaces around Legion Park. Romero cleans graffiti as part of Lodi’s graffiti abatement program, which receives nearly $65,000 annually.

Hood said it’s not uncommon for the park to be tagged multiple days in a row, but given the extent of the recent graffiti, Lodi will move quickly to fight this problem.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s not discouraging,” Hood said. “We’ll figure something out.”

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

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