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City gets advice on fighting graffiti

Taggers who leave their graffiti all over the city like to call their work art.

It's anything but art for those who have to clean it up.

Business leaders, law enforcement and area block clubs met in Niagara Falls police headquarters this week with the Regional Anti-Graffiti Task Force of Buffalo and Erie County to discuss ways to end the growing problem.

"Graffiti in Niagara Falls -- tagging -- has grown exponentially. It's getting bigger. It's getting taller. It's gotten higher. We want to get on the right track to help combat that," said Officer Michael Corcoran, who is part of the city's community policing team recording instances of graffiti.

A "tag" refers to a graffiti writer's personalized signature.

Sam Lunetta, a retired lieutenant with Buffalo State College police working with the task force, said the task force's work includes looking for new tags and where they are popping up.

"Once [a tagger] is arrested, we are able to put it all together and get them indicted on felony charges," Lunetta said.

He said the task force is trying to make sure taggers are prosecuted. The group worked with Pittsburgh police to prosecute a tagger named Ian Debeer, who called himself HERT. After police connected him to more than $200,000 in graffiti damage, Debeer was arrested, convicted and sentenced to one to three years in jail.

"Is graffiti art? You can go back and forth, but permission certainly is the key," Lunetta said.

He said task force members regularly attend court to make sure that taggers are prosecuted.

Roger Spurback, president of the Niagara Falls Block Club Council, said the state needs laws, similar to those in Los Angeles, to prevent taggers from profiting from their artwork.

"Anytime their artworks shows up in books [or videos,] they get paid," Spurback said.

"The public has to be educated," Lunetta said. "If you see someone out there on their bike with a backpack in the middle of the night, they are probably not on their way to the library."