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New kind of graffiti creates sticky situation for police

Published: Thursday, July 31 2014 5:05 p.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, July 31 2014 5:58 p.m. MDT

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WEST VALLEY CITY — Police are tackling a relatively new form of graffiti that's conspicuous, destructive and easy to get away with.

In what is known as the "slap game," vandals write messages or draw pictures on postal service labels and "slap" them to the sides of buildings and other structures.

The stickers make quick work for graffiti artists looking to make their mark as noticeable as possible while avoiding capture, according to West Valley police detective Mike Lynes.

"They're used to get a graffiti artist's name out there," Lynes said. "We're still seeing the painting graffiti a lot more. This is just something that's come onto the trend over the last few years in the graffiti culture."

The stickers may affect a smaller surface area than spray paint but are often harder to remove and have residual effects, Lynes said.

"The problem we're finding is they're so well made that they're hard to get off the walls and signs," he said. "Once they get stuck on there, it stays and then it collects dirt. Even after it's removed, the chemicals that are in here will actually damage the paint or whatever the item is."

Despite the difficulty, officers place priority on removing the labels as quickly as possible because the longer they remain, the more credibility the artist gains among fellow criminals, according to Lynes.

The labels, available in large quantities in post office lobbies, come in various sizes. Postal customers use them daily, but some offices may restrict the number of labels available in one place, according to U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Margaret Putnam.

"We can manage the quantity of those labels in our lobbies. That's what we're going to do almost immediately," Putnam said. "But we can't eliminate them because they need to be used by our mailers."

While the slap game appears to be mostly artistic, prosecutors treat each case with the same seriousness as gang-related vandalism and criminal mischief, according to Lynes.

The problem spans multiple jurisdictions across the valley, and police rely on interagency cooperation while tracking down those involved in the crime, Lynes said. Most artists are between ages 12 and 25.

"It's definitely something we need to be concerned about as parents," he said.

Graffiti remains one of the largest property crimes in the West Valley area, causing thousands of dollars in damage each week, according to Lynes. But the fight against the crime has lately tipped in favor of authorities as they no longer have to catch vandals in the act, he said.

"We've actually turned to some different investigative techniques to identify who these individuals are. We're getting a lot better at it," he said. "Where two years ago we may be grabbing 2 (percent to) 3 percent of these individuals, we're up to probably 70 percent now."

Contributing: Mary Richards, Keith McCord

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com, Twitter: MorganEJacobsen

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