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LAW AIMS TO KEEP LID ON SPRAY PAINT

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Anyone caught packing spray paint or other instruments of graffiti could find himself in trouble with the law in Utah's second-largest city.

And any spray-paint packer or other suspicious character who refuses to divulge his identity to a police officer could find himself in double trouble.The West Valley City Council has adopted two ordinances giving police some new tools, saying they will enhance their officers' enforcement powers and efficiency.

The new anti-graffiti law makes it a crime to possess "any tool, instrument, article, substance, solution or other compound designed or commonly used to paint, write, spray, scratch, affix, inscribe or otherwise place a mark upon a piece of property . . . under circumstances evincing an intent to use same in order to graffiti such property."

Possession of graffiti instruments in a public building, park, facility or alley "shall be presumptive evidence of intent to use same in order to damage such property," the law says.

Modeled after a similar law in Chandler, Ariz., West Valley's ordinance is the first in Utah to make possession of graffiti instruments a crime, according to City Manager John Patterson.

He said it is intended to give police and prosecutors one more weapon against graffiti that is "not only a physical blight upon the city, but costs our taxpayers thousands of dollars to remove."

For example, he said, police recently stopped three suspected gang members in a car containing 72 cans of spray paint in an area that had just been hit hard with graffiti. If police hadn't traced the paint to a local paint store burglary, the youths might have gone free, Patterson said.

"With this new ordinance, even if we hadn't tied them to the burglary, they could have been arrested simply for possessing the paint under those circumstances," he said.

City Attorney Paul Morris stressed that the ordinance applies to instances where an officer can establish an "intent" to deface property. Someone innocently walking home through a park with a bag of paint from a hardware store isn't going to be arrested, he said.

The new identification law gives police the authority to arrest a suspect who "refuse to give his name, address and an explanation of his actions when such information is requested pursuant to (state law) even if the officer does not state the basis for his request."

Morris said state law already allows officers to demand a suspect's name, address and other information if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the suspect is involved in criminal activity. Also, it is already a crime to give an officer false information.

"But what if the suspect refuses to say anything? We've had those circumstances. The officer is left with the option of standing there until the suspect decides to cooperate or he (the officer) is dispatched to something more important, or just releasing the suspect," Morris said.

Under the new law, refusing to provide the information is treated the same as providing false information, he said.