LAFAYETTE — Don’t just cover up that graffiti.
“Report it. Report it. It helps us,” said Lafayette police Officer Michael Zambon, who works on the department’s street crime unit with a focus on gangs.
Law enforcement officials have said that it’s just a fact that gangs exist and operate in Greater Lafayette.
Rather than ignoring or just covering up graffiti, reporting those symbols and letters hidden in it can be very helpful to Zambon and other officers in identifying gang activities or conflicts, he said.
It is difficult to say whether the amount of graffiti has gone up recently, Zambon said. He said he gets about one or two emails a week on graffiti, with about a quarter of them related to gang activities.
But he is clear on this: Too many times, he has seen graffiti get covered up or left intact with nary a call to police.
He’s not talking about street art, which often portrays a scene and at times has been commissioned by the city. He’s talking about gang graffiti: Largely simplistic, consisting of prominent symbols such as a six-pointed star or trident. Initials of gangs or their members often punctuate those. “(Gang members) are not trying to conceal themselves,” said West Lafayette police Capt. David Van Vactor, who is also the department’s gang information coordinator. “I don’t think anyone tries to challenge us.”
“(Gang members) are not trying to conceal themselves,” said West Lafayette police Capt. David Van Vactor, who is also the department’s gang information coordinator. “I don’t think anyone tries to challenge us.”
Those “drawings” are still used to mark gangs’ territory and boost gangs’ exposure. However, if reported, that graffiti also can boost gangs’ exposure to police officers.
Police often use graffiti to learn gangs’ territories, Zambon said. That helps the officers when they see gang members in rivals’ areas.
“If we stop someone of a rival gang (in those territories), we (can) ask what they are doing,” he said.
Graffiti can even signal a turf war.
X’d out graffiti or graffiti with upside-down symbols? Zambon said those indicate signs of disrespect between rivaling gangs. Reporting those are especially crucial.
“(Those) gives us an idea of what’s about to happen,” he said.
Certain gang symbols and signs can have different definitions in Lafayette than in places like Chicago. But no matter their definitions, symbols such as the trident or six-pointed star still largely point to gang activities, Zambon said.
Sometimes, graffiti tip Zambon about new gangs or gang members. When he gets alerted to graffiti with signs and symbols he can’t recognize, he would drive to the site and inquire of residents.
Some of those graffiti are also circulated to other law enforcement personnel around the state, Van Vactor said. Sometimes, those personnel provide him with information about new gangs or gang activities.
But if those graffiti are not reported, Zambon said, it’s tougher to learn that information.
“People will take it upon themselves to cover (those graffiti) up,” he said. “(But) If it’s covered (up), there’s not much I can do.”