Thursday, January 13, 2011

No Tolerance for Graffiti Vandals

By Eric Yun

Two prolific vandals, responsible for much of the graffiti around neighborhoods in the 104th Precinct, were arrested last week. Matthew Young, 23, and Thomas Rank, 19, both from Glendale, have defaced their neighborhoods for years, police said.

The 104th Precinct has prioritized catching vandals, and in 2010, ranked second in the city with 174 graffiti-related arrests and charges. Only the 122nd Precinct of Staten Island had more with 215 arrests and charges.

Officers aren’t slowing down in the new year; there have already been 74 charges brought for graffiti in the 104th Precinct, which includes Ridgewood, Glendale, Middle Village and Maspeth.

Lt. James Lombardi said the precinct officers have taken a strong initiative against the criminals that vandalized its neighborhoods. Of the 174 arrests in 2010, officers from the 104th made 162. The NYPD Anti-Graffiti Task force made the other arrests.

Lombardi explained how the precinct has taken charge of the graffiti problem. “We build cases, find the people responsible and charge them with every tag we’ve documented,” he said. This allows the police to send stronger cases to the District Attorney’s office, which leads to higher fines and possible prison time.

“We want to make sure they do some time,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi praised the work of officers Alison Potokin and Justin Dambinskas, who have worked diligently to find and arrest the vandals. They said the best way to help them do their job is to call 911 for graffiti acts in process and 311 to report graffiti sightings.

But catching the criminals is only one aspect of solving the graffiti problem. Cleaning up graffiti is also important. In the 104th Precinct, there were 800 police sponsored clean up events. The precinct works with local community groups to clean their neighborhoods. “Everyone joins together to help clean up,” Lombardi said.

This year the precinct is working with civic groups including Maspeth Town Hall and the Juniper Park Civic Association as well as local schools like I.S. 93 to clean the streets. The officers also urge residents and business owners to be proactive cleaning graffiti. Graffiti vandals won’t waste time retagging areas if they know it will be wiped clean, officers said.

Potokin said graffiti is not a harmless or victimless crime. Many of the vandals are associated with gang-like “crews” and fall into other criminal mischief. For example, Young had been previously arrested for public lewdness in Forest Park, and Rank was once arrested for domestic violence. The vandalism by Young and Rank have also cost the city thousands of dollars in damages including graffiti tagged on a police van by Young.

Officers will not slow down in 2011. Potokin said they will continue to build cases against vandals. The precinct is also working with the DA to push for harsher sentences against graffiti vandals. One way the community can keep vandals in prison is to write and call the DA and ask for strict punishments.

Matthew Young is currently being held on $10,000 bail, and Thomas Rank is being held on $9,000 bail.

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