FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Some young taggers say they are addicted to vandalizing property, sneaking out late at night and literally painting the town.
Fresno Police say so called tagging has sparked many confrontations that have led to several of the cities latest murders.
Action News reporter Sontaya Rose has been investigating tagging crews and uncovered why Fresno teens are committing the crime and the trouble with policing it.
The work of tagging crews isn't hard to find in Fresno. Their drawings deface sidewalks, fences, walls, buildings and windows.
Many times, graffiti cleanup crews are just a day behind taggers, covering and buffing away their work. Taggers say they get creative and target less noticeable areas, hoping their signs and symbols will stay up longer.
"Those guys, they really don't get it. It's like they just get paid for it and it's their job and I understand it, I respect that, but I'm trying to get my name out here."
Over the years, tagging has escalated from defacing property to include far more violent crimes like assault and even homicide. And many recent shootings involving taggers has prompted police to now validate these crews as gangs, since they operate much the same way.
"Tagging is what you make it. It doesn't become violent out of nowhere. You got to make it violent."
As we found out in Central Fresno- taggers are usually armed with more than markers and spray paint.
"I'd say it's a kitchen knife. I put a little rubber thing on it, it's a little better grip so I don't lose it."
This 16-year-old says he carries this small knife all the time- just in case he is confronted. He's been tagging since he was 11, and like many others, he is part of a tagging crew.
"30 people paint with me, not at the same time, but, I even supply some cans and s--t because they get some cans and s--t, some cheapy cans."
Fresno Police detective Diana Trueba specializes in gangs and taggers. She's found many taggers leave their mark- even in their own neighborhood.
"A lot of times you will know where a tagger lives because they will tag their backyard, they will tag the back of their alley, they will tag their block," Det. Diana Trueba said. "It's almost like you can follow the trail to their doorstep sometimes."
Several days a month, Trueba does searches at homes where taggers are on probation.
Most parents she confronts are aware their kids are tagging- some begin in elementary school.
Det. Diana Trueba said, "I would say a lot of the younger ones start as young as nine years old."
Trueba says many parents tell her they are too busy working to support their family or have simply given up on keeping track of their kids. So without parental enforcement- Trueba finds many juveniles refuse to stop.
Det. Diana Trueba said, "The acrylic type paint. Stickers, and then they practice anywhere they can as you can see."
This 17-year-old told Action News he started drawing three years ago with his younger brother. He's not in school because he refuses to go.
"I just usually tell my brother you want to go paint, drink something, walk, pray real quick and then paint."
He wears a necklace of Jesus Malverde, considered by many criminals to be the saint of drug dealers- but he insists it's only for good luck and protection.
Taggers say over the years, they've had to become more selective about when they vandalize property.
"When I first started, it was easy like it was easy. We could go out at this time and not get caught. Just catching windows, buildings, whatever, doing throwies, pieces, whatever, it was just so easy."
"Well now, it's just hard. There's cameras down Kings, cause the cops already know the routes."
Taggers we talked with say they are more concerned about getting caught by police, then being confronted by a rival crew.
Det. Diana Trueba said, "It is about respect and once it becomes about respect, which is what gangs are about- that's when you really having problems with violence."
Police say, the number of taggers is growing by the day. Friends recruit friends, family members bring in the next generation and the cycle continues.
Experienced taggers say police must contend with one fact that makes luring in new taggers so simple.
"Tagging is addicting."
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