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SANDY PROGRAM TAKES AIM AT GRAFFITI

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In 1992, just 29 incidents of graffiti vandalism were reported in this city of 80,000 people.

Those were the good old days.Last year the number skyrocketed to 472. In 1994, vandals are on track to surpass estimates that police will handle 800 graffiti complaints before year's end.

But the city is fighting back, proposing $25,000 in the upcoming fiscal year's budget for a "graffiti-removal specialist" and launching a program that forces makers of graffiti to clean up after themselves.

"We're asking the court system to give us these taggers for a hundred hours," said Police Chief Sam Dawson. "The first weekend they might think it's kind of fun, but by the time they get to the 10th, 11th or 12th weekend, it won't be fun any more."

Dawson said volunteers will oversee those sentenced to such community service. The program will be in full swing within weeks.

Offenders will get time off with their 100-hour cleanup assignments, if their parents supervise the punishment.

"Our objective is removal within 24 hours," said Mayor Tom Dolan.

"That's been shown to be the No. 1 deterrent."

Scott Earl, acting director of parks and recreation, said vandals seem especially fond of hitting pavilions in the city's 19 parks. Walls separating subdivisions from major traffic arteries are also favorite targets. "Skywriters" are drawn to overpasses and tall signs.

Last year, Sandy hired a worker on a 10-month contract to keep up with the taggers, but demand called for a full-time, permanent appointment.

The worker spends the majority of most days removing graffiti with a sandblaster, said Earl.

Residents who report incidents receive free and immediate attention.

Dawson said police keep a meticulous graffiti file with pictures of every new production. He said "taggers" come in three varieties.

"The first one is gang members, marking territory, but that's not really the biggest," said Dawson.

"The second type is the artists, the ones who do murals. They're the easiest to catch because it takes them more than one day, so they come back."

The other kind - and by far the largest group, according to Dawson - are youths who aren't affiliated with gangs, aren't particularly talented with a spray-paint can or a felt-tip marker and have an irrepressible urge to express themselves inappropriately.

"These range from fifth to 11th grade, a time of competition between kids to put their mark in the most unusual, blatant, audacious, offensive place to give themselves some sort of worth," said Dawson.