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Leaders weigh in on graffiti initiative

Members of the Waterbury LaSalle Community Association are preparing to launch a court watcher initiative. They want harsher sentences for graffiti vandals. Will the initiative work? Law enforcement agents disagree.

Assistant District Attorney Renee Aponte was pleased to hear about the WLCA plan. Members of the WLCA will attend graffiti-related cases to combat clemency. They’re frustrated with the Bronx bench; graffiti is not a high priority on E. 161st Street. Aponte heads the district attorney’s graffiti outreach team.

“To be honest, having the public in court is always a good thing,” he said.

Aponte believes the bench will respond. If and when WLCA members pack a courtroom, the judge on duty will see graffiti in a different light. Relative to murder or rape, graffiti is a minor offense. But for the members of WLCA, who want to preserve a tame neighborhood, graffiti is a serious crime.

“I think [the court watcher initiative] is a great idea,” Aponte said. “Graffiti is going to be a problem this summer.”

Police officer Pasquale Pappalardi, graffiti gumshoe at the 45th Precinct, is supportive of but less sure about the WLCA plan. He and other police officers want the Bronx bench to punish graffiti vandals, but many cases never make it to court, Pappalardi said.

Consider the following scenario. You see someone tag a wall. You dial 911. If the vandal is still on-site when police arrive, if there is a firsthand witness, if the owner of the vandalized property is available to press charges, then and only then will the case see court.

Pappalardi doubts that WLCA members will sway the bench. It will take a borough-wide court watcher initiative to enact real change, he said.

“I just had training in Queens,” said Pappalardi. “There was a guy arrested for tagging a hundred places and he only did six months [in jail]. What’s a guy arrested for tagging two or three places going to get?”

Pappalardi was surprised to learn that Aponte’s graffiti case count is up. The 45th Precinct has been quiet for three weeks, he said. The weather is finally warm enough for graffiti clean-up crews to power-wash, etc. There’s nothing a vandal hates more that seeing his or her tag disappear again and again.

“Usually in the summer I see a decrease,” Pappalardi said.

The 45th Precinct made three graffiti arrests in early June; it rained off and on for most of the month. Senator Jeff Klein has offered to help the WLCA launch the court watcher initiative. Members will wear matching t-shirts – “NO GRAFFITI” or something similar.

Klein staffers have met with the district attorney and requested a list of upcoming graffiti cases in the 45th Precinct and borough-wide. Klein staffers have also asked Aponte’s graffiti outreach team to reengage civic groups like WLCA. They’ll send photos of tags in the 34th Senate District to the district attorney soon.

“Graffiti vandals not only deface our beautiful neighborhoods, they cause a drop in property values and diminish our quality of life,” Klein said. “I am working with law enforcement from the district attorney’s office…to protect our streets and commercial strips from this terrible offense.”

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