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Graffiti may cost Lathrop vandals $1K fine, community service work
City may offer rewards for arrest and conviction of violators
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LATHROP – Lathrop has added more legal teeth to its fight against graffiti.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an amendment to existing municipal ordinance which will mandate, among other things:

• a $1,000 fine slapped for each violation,

• all acts of graffiti to be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, which could be punishable by six months in jail on top of the fine.

• persons who own or are in charge of property to remove graffiti within 48 hours,

• imposition of community service as per court order for any graffiti violation; and court may require parent or legal guardian to be present during the service performance when the case involves someone under the age of 18.

• removal of graffiti from any private property by the city using public funds with the costs to be later imposed on the property owners.

The new ordinance will also make it illegal “to sell, exchange, give, loan or in any way furnish to any person under the age of 18 any material used for the creation of graffiti.” A minor found in possession of any graffiti implement would also be in violation of the law.

Additionally, the city may offer rewards “for the arrest and conviction of any person who defaces property with graffiti.”

Mayor Kristy Sayles actually wanted to see a $5,000 fine imposed – even $10,000 – saying a stiff fine “will make those kids think twice” before committing any act of vandalism.

But Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo, a school teacher at Lathrop Elementary, said a stiffer fine may actually be more detrimental to already hard-up and financially struggling parents who would end up absorbing that financial blow for something that their children had done.

“Kids – when they do that (vandalism), they don’t care about their parents,” Salcedo said.

As a teacher, she said, she always comes face to face with parents having a hard time with their children and are always asking for “help with their kids.”

Sayles then asked if Salcedo would consider the amount of $1,000. Salcedo agreed.

Sayles concurred with that, but “reluctantly,” she qualified.

“I’d kill my kids” if they were caught committing graffiti, the mayor commented. “Everybody who knows me knows that.”

She added that if any of her kids are ever caught doing graffiti, she sternly stated, “call me; I’ll get them.”

The adoption of the stiffer ordinance is the city’s way of responding to a recent spike in graffiti throughout the city on both public and private properties. The crackdown on this type of vandalism is intended to “protect property, health, safety and welfare of residents” and to fight blight in neighborhoods, according to the ordinance. Staff reports described graffiti as “an attractive public nuisance which contributes to declining property values and increased crime.”

In adopting the above amendments, staff looked at similar ordinances put in place by neighboring cities such as Manteca, Ripon, Tracy, Escalon, Lodi, Oakdale and Stockton.

Council member Christopher Mateo wanted to know what a citizen can do if they see “someone in the act” of committing graffiti on a property.

Lt. Chris Pehl of the Lathrop Police Services said they would need a description of the individual – age, gender, and nationality if that information is known, what they look like, and the direction of their flight – to help them nab the suspect.

But he cautioned, “do not confront anybody; I do not encourage anybody with that approach.”

The best thing to do, he said, is to call the police.