New York City Police Department

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Crime Prevention | Citywide Vandals Task Force

Based in Brooklyn, with a satellite command in the Manhattan, the Citywide Vandals Taskforce is charged with the responsibility of tracking and preventing vandalism in all boroughs. The unit is under the direction of Commanding Officer, Captain Elwood Selover. The unit falls under the direction of the Transit Bureau, and with good reason. "Though there are many vandals who do not 'tag' in the subways," explained Captain Selover, "The transit system is still at the heart of the graffiti culture. We address this crime aggressively throughout the five boroughs, but effectively combating graffiti in the City means being able to do so in the subway system."

Part of battling graffiti is educating people; explaining how it hurts a community and disabusing them of the idea that it is a victimless crime. Members of the Task Force regularly speak at Community Board meetings, schools and other venues, about how the task of keeping parks, streets and subways clear of graffiti goes a long way to cleaning up or outright preventing more serious and dangerous problems. Also on the syllabus is help in identifying signs that one's child maybe getting drawn into the graffiti culture. Parents sometimes dismiss their children's actions as normal adolescent behavior when they are in fact signs of more nefarious associations. The Task Force, in partnership with the Chief of Department's Office, and the Community Affairs Bureau, has put out a pamphlet to aid in this venture, and continues to look for new and better ways to incorporate every stake holder in the battle against graffiti.

The officers assigned to the Vandals Task Force possess a passion for their work that is matched only by the commitment of the Department to ensure that we are relentless in our efforts to battle graffiti. The majority of the unit functions in a patrol capacity; they have directed patrols and daily assignments. The Task Force members are dispatched in plainclothes, across the city, to target the areas hardest hit by vandals. They keep tabs on what is happening on the street, and parlay this information into arrests or more comprehensive investigations.

One of the subunits within the Task Force is the School Conditions Apprehension Team. They are specifically assigned to work with the myriad schools in the City to help identify and prevent graffiti vandalism. This reorganization has helped facilitate the more effective utilization of resources owing to the fact that the majority of those perpetrating this crime are youths.

Updating the Graffiti Offender Data Base and utilizing its myriad features to identify perpetrators and solidify cases are just some of the ways by which the Task Force accomplishes its mandate.

Tracking and nabbing the City's most industrious and destructive offenders has become a priority for the Task Force. Using conventional investigative skills, as well as a recently updated graffiti offender data base, officers can track and net those who wreak the most havoc on our City. The data bank allows officers from across the City to contribute to the effort. Offenders arrested for graffiti are brought to the attention of the Task Force and their arrest information is entered along with a mug shot and a photo of the damage caused. But an arrest is not required for the data bank to be utilized. A complaint made regarding graffiti is forwarded to the Citywide Vandals Task Force; that information is entered as well. This vigilance allows officers to match a number of identical "tags" to compile stronger cases against the offenders, to hold them responsible when they are eventually arrested.

"Tags" are like signatures, the vandals do them the same way each time. For them it is a matter of being recognized; they want people to know that each successive "tag" was made by the same person. Fortunately this enables the Task Force to work with the DA's office to compile cases and enhance arrests.

The Worst of the Worst book is constantly reviewed and Captain Selover is briefed on the updates enabling the Task Force to use the book as a key tool in its Anti-Graffiti offensive. Along with the database, the Task Force has put together a "Worst of the Worst" book, a sort of vade mecum of the 100 or so graffiti vandals that the Task Force has identified as the top menaces. This book is packed with information on each offender; detailing their area of operation, tags, pedigree information and more. The Graffiti Coordinators in each patrol precinct have a copy and use it as tools to keep this crime in check. The Task Force is intent upon furthering the crime decline in the City and is, by far, one of the Department's best weapons in doing so. Their efforts have helped transform New York’s reputation back into one that of the preeminent travel destination in the world.


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