Salt River Police Officer Alejandro McDaniel talks to the Community Housing residents about the fight against graffiti.

Housing Residents Participate in Block Watch

By Tasha Silverhorn
Au-Authm Action News

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Housing Division and the Salt River Police Department (SRPD) are teaming up to revive the Community Block Watch program in the Salt River Housing Division neighborhoods. The two departments started by holding Block Watch meetings, during which SRPD personnel educated Community members about how to handle situations that require police assistance.

At one recent meeting, held on Friday, July 13, SRPD Police Chief Patrick Melvin welcomed the residents, explaining what the concept of a neighborhood block watch is all about.

“It’s basically looking out for your neighbor,” said Melvin.
During his presentation, Melvin gave a quick quiz to the residents, asking them how tall he was and how much he weighed. Some of their guesses were close, but some were not. This was a way to show the residents how important it is to pay attention to detail in case they ever need to describe a criminal suspect to the police.

Melvin also addressed the relationship between the police and the Community members, encouraging the residents to let him know if they are not treated right by officers.

“If you’re not treated right, I want to know that. We can’t get better unless you let us know how we are doing,” said Melvin. “On the flip side, if we’re doing something good, let us know that too. We would like to hear good feedback.”

Residents shared some experiences with crime. One resident was very upset that her property has been vandalized by a graffiti tagger more than once. During the most recent incident, she witnessed the vandalism taking place. As she called the police, she watched out the window as her home and homes of several other residents in the Red Mountain Vista properties were vandalized.

A Canalside resident shared with Melvin about the time when she came across two non–Native American men shooting guns right next to the Canalside homes. She approached the men and asked if they knew they were on a reservation. They jumped in their car and took off.

Melvin responded that residents should never take the law into their own hands; it’s important to call the police.

Graffiti in the Community
Two SRPD officers, Sgt. Jeremiah Rangel and Off. Alejandro McDaniel, spoke about graffiti, hoping to answer some of the residents’ questions. Rangel gave some background on graffiti culture. Gang-related graffiti starts with juvenile “taggers,” kids from about 8 to 15 years old who get a little “street name” called a “moniker” that they go by, Rangel said. “During the night, they will tag their street name as many times as they can, as long as they can.”

You will see some initials with the name; the initials stand for the “crew” that the tagger is with. “This is the starting point for these individuals to get jumped into gangs,” said Rangel. “They get into the tagging culture; they wear dark, baggy clothing and hoodies; you’ll also see the different types of spray-paint can tips.”

Rangel reported to the residents about the individual mentioned earlier who vandalized the Red Mountain Vista homes. Rangel explained that the individual had been caught and arrested for vandalizing 16 homes, starting at Thomas Road and Extension and progressing through the Victory Acres, Victory Acres II, Red Mountain and Canalside homes. “He even broke into someone’s car and tagged the inside of the windshield,” said Rangel.

All together there were more than 100 tags, and that one individual caused about $30,000 in damage.

Gang graffiti is different from tagging. Graffiti done by gangs consists of the gang name and disrespectful messages to the rival gangs. If you notice gang graffiti popping up in your neighborhood, it could mean there is a conflict going on between two gangs in the area.

“If you see something, say something. Talk with your neighbors, and if need be, call the police,” said Rangel.

McDaniel continued with the topic of graffiti, informing the residents about the Graffiti Abatement Program. McDaniel is working with the Phoenix Police Department, which is a leader in graffiti control. The Phoenix Police Department photographs graffiti and maintains a computer database of the images to help identify individual taggers and charge them with vandalism.

“Our biggest issue is identifying who is doing [graffiti]; that’s crucial,” said McDaniel. “In order to do that, we have to work together. As officers we won’t be able to eradicate graffiti on our own; we need the cooperation of the Community to let [taggers] know that we’re not going to tolerate these things.”

Typically graffiti is done by juveniles, but there are older individuals involved in graffiti. “Graffiti is a gateway to other crimes, [so if] we can eliminate that [we can] hopefully get these people turned around.”

McDaniel is currently creating a new Web page on the SRPD Web site about graffiti. People can learn how to report graffiti, how to remove it, and more.

The SRPD also plans to work with the School Resource Officers on a mural program in which groups or organizations in the Community schools can “adopt a standpipe” to paint a mural on. The Public Works Department will provide the paint and materials.

“We are trying to deter this [graffiti] and send a message out that the Community doesn’t stand for graffiti, we’re not going to put up with it, and that graffiti is a crime and you will be punished,” said McDaniel. “For the first offense it can be up to 10 days in jail and up to a $500 penalty. The second offense is a fine of no less than $500 and 20 days in jail.”

Cuff ’Em Program
SRPD Det. Vicente Cendejas then talked with the residents about the Cuff ’Em Program, which was established in 1994. The SRPD was the first tribal police department in Indian Country law enforcement to begin a Crime Stoppers program. Individuals with information about any unsolved crime can call the program 24 hours a day, seven days a week and report the information. They may remain anonymous, and the program offers cash rewards of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest or conviction of persons who have committed a crime. Since its inception, several homicide, narcotics and trafficking cases have been solved. It only takes one call to CUFF: 1-800-713-2833.

“Remember, we don’t need your name—you may remain anonymous,” said Cendejas. “We only need your information to solve crimes, and you may be eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000.”

During the meeting, Rangel also offered some general crime-prevention tips.
“If you take away the motive, means and opportunity, it makes you less likely to become a victim,” Rangel said. For example, if you don’t want someone to steal your purse, don’t leave your purse in plain sight in the car with the door unlocked. Be aware of your surroundings, and don’t give criminals the chance to take advantage of you.

Currently the Neighborhood Watch Program is active in Lonely Cactus Subdivision, meeting once a month on the second Tuesday of the month from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; everyone is welcome. For more information about Block Watch in the Community, please call the Salt River Housing Division at (480) 362-5720.

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