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Emily Welker, Published March 24 2013

Fargo police credit sensors with helping in graffiti arrests

FARGO – Police efforts to foil trigger-happy taggers are gaining ground here.

Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said with a string of arrests of serial graffiti suspects over the past year, the department’s investment in a pair of $800 graffiti sensors appears to be paying off.

The sensors detect the fumes from the solvents in the taggers’ spray paints and alert officers and dispatchers via cellphone.

Fargo police have used the sensors since summer 2010, installing them in areas that are common targets for graffiti.

So far, the sensors haven’t caught any taggers in the act, Vettel said, but they have worked fast enough so that responding police have arrived on-scene to find suspects walking or driving away from fresh graffiti.

The taggers caught have been mostly juveniles, but each person’s arrest usually means they’ve solved quite a lot of graffiti cases. In 2012, eight people were charged with graffiti offenses, and all were multiple violations, he said.

The only adult among them, 21-year-old Mitchell Massey, was arrested and charged with four different graffiti episodes in the city. Massey pleaded guilty on Thursday to all four counts of criminal mischief, which is a Class B misdemeanor, and received a suspended sentence, Fargo city prosecutor Jodi Bass said.

It’s a particularly time-sensitive crime to investigate, Vettel said. Elaborate, time-consuming graffiti is rare in the Fargo area, he said. Signature tags that take at most a couple of minutes are more prevalent, and by the time officers arrive, the perpetrators are often long gone.

“Here’s the sad thing – 10 percent of them are doing 80 percent of these tags,” Vettel said. “It’s not one or two times they’re doing it, but 10 or 20 tags.”

Vettel said still cameras installed near graffiti-prone areas such as schools, playgrounds and private businesses that are only open during the day are also helping them cut down on graffiti.

He said the three cameras installed downtown in a stretch along NP Avenue also helped deter taggers from making their mark.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541