Gang graffiti numbers down doesn't mean less gang activity

Gang graffiti numbers down doesn't mean less gang activity
TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- Graffiti has been a hallmark of gangs. They do it to get their name out there, mark their territory, and even warn their enemies about what's to come. But it's not being found as often. Does that mean gangs are less active? Gina Lazara talked to a reformed gang member to get his take.

"I've been gang banging for 21 years, I used to be a Blood, I just got out of prison, I just did six and a half years in prison, and now I'm trying to change my life," said reformed gang member, Maurice Brown.

Maurice Brown knows the life. He's out now. He serves as an intern for a local gang outreach organization, FIRME. He wasn't surprised to hear that gang graffiti isn't being found as often. Maurice thinks it represents a cultural shift.

"They're definitely here, they're definitely busy, graffiti is just not at the top of the list," he said.

So less graffiti doesn't equal fewer gangs. But the look around town is still apparent. Just a few years ago, Benton County recorded four times as many gang graffiti incidents than it did last year. Dropping from 40 to just 12. The Benton County Gang Unit focuses on covering up the marks as soon as they are found.

"It's really not alarming per se," said FIRME's Executive Director, Jesse Campos.

He wasn't surprised, either.

"Just not seeing the graffiti doesn't mean that there's not activity behind the doors, there is activity behind the doors, but the graffiti nowadays, the culture has changed, especially here in the Tri-Cities, tagging is not a big thing anymore," said Campos.

Instead, Campos says, gang members get a lot of tattoos, represent their gang by wearing their colors, and graffiti their own property instead.

"It's important, ya know, it's a way to get your name there, it's a way to warn the enemies about what may come or it's a way to give tribute to the fallen gang members," said Brown.

But focusing on destruction of their own property has made for fewer marks on public property that we all pay for.

The FIRME Executive Director says it's not just the local deputies and police that are on top of tagging, but also the schools. A Kennewick school recently contacted FIRME to let them know of a motivated tagger. They put a stop to the activity before it began by looking at his recent web searches.