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Pittsburgh police to restart anti-graffiti squad

| Friday, April 4, 2014, 6:19 p.m.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is resurrecting a special police squad to crack down on graffiti vandals across the city.

Peduto announced on Friday that three detectives would be assigned to a graffiti task force starting on Monday. The squad, which proved effective in busting spray-paint vandals, was disbanded last year because of lowered police staffing, according to acting Chief Regina McDonald.

Peduto opposed the move. “It's critical, and it works,” Peduto said while speaking to reporters after a church service for three officers killed by a gunman in Stanton Heights five years ago.

“It's part of the broken window theory,” he said. “If you let the graffiti stand, then eventually you're going to find more litter. Once the litter and graffiti are there, you see the crime.”

McDonald said the police bureau has increased its ranks and now has enough officers to accommodate another graffiti squad. Twenty-six officers graduated in February, and about 50 recruits are in training.

Lauren Byrne, executive director of the nonprofit Lawrenceville United, said the neighborhood has seen a rash of graffiti in recent months.

“I can't necessarily say it's because (the graffiti squad) was disbanded, but because we see the same images over and over again, it makes me believe that people don't feel they are going to be held accountable because of the number of times they're doing it.”

Byrne said the name “Asher” and a heart with two letter Xs inside it are recurring spray-paint images in Lawrenceville.

Graffiti vandals are known to spray paint images repeatedly, known as tags. Byrne said the squad maintained a database of tags that permitted officers to link multiple graffiti cases to one suspect.

“We're excited to have the graffiti task force back again,” she said.

The graffiti squad began in 2006 and has made high-profile arrests, including members of Pittsburgh's Most Wanted Graffiti Vandals Ian de Beer and Daniel J. Montano. Montano was sentenced in 2008 to 2½ to five years in prison and ordered to pay $232,582, and de Beer was sentenced in 2010 to one to three years in prison and ordered to pay more than $45,000 in restitution.

According to the police department's annual report, the graffiti squad made eight arrests and secured $10,564 in restitution in 2012.

Statistics from 2013 were not available, but police reported before the squad was disbanded last April they arrested eight people in a two-week period and handled 14 graffiti complaints totaling $17,000 in damages.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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