A newly formed local group is painting over top of graffiti as parks and recreation district and police department leaders work to eliminate the problem

JASON CHANEY - Prineville resident Lynn Troupe paints over the top of graffiti on a bridge footing west of Main Street along Ochoco Creek. More of the graffiti is shown below.

Prineville resident Lynn Troupe carefully climbs down a short but steep swath of rock-laden terrain.

Paint bucket in one hand, with his fingers clasping a brush, he is careful not to misstep and end up in the waters of Ochoco Creek below.

Covering the footings of a nearby bridge are multiple spray-painted tags that Troupe is eager to cover in light beige paint. It is the second time in a three-day span he has spent a few hours erasing the vandalism, and he is sure it won't be the last.

"I grew up here," the 78-year-old says, before recalling his career travels that took him to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. There, in a bustling urban setting, the tags are commonplace in certain areas, but when he returned to Prineville a couple years ago, he was shocked to see the graffiti that littered his home town.

"I was thinking we have got to stop this before it gets out of hand," he recalls, "and it is starting to get out of hand." Ston McDaniel remembers a recent meeting when Troupe pitched a plan to team up and paint over graffiti throughout Prineville. Crook County 3 Percent — also known as CC3 — began meeting twice a month at the library with the goal of offering community support.

"Essentially, the group's mission statement is we are dedicated to bringing together like-minded individuals to help educate, prepare and support the community," the group lead explained.

CC3 averages a membership of roughly 30, McDaniel said, and they will often brainstorm projects that will help the community in some capacity. Troupe's idea struck a chord.

"We said, that is a great idea."

The great idea hit a few early snags. Painting over graffiti tags on public structures like bridge footings was one thing, but the walls of local businesses had suffered the same vandalism, and the group was unsure how to deal with private property.

"We talked with the city, and now we coordinate with them to provide ownership information for properties that have been vandalized with graffiti. We contact the owners and get permission to paint over it."

Other partners in the endeavor include Parr Lumber and Ace Hardware, both of which have donated paint and supplies to CC3. A week ago Sunday, a group of seven members, including Troupe, went out and cleaned up about 10 locations throughout the community.

"The group really embraced it," McDaniel said of the effort.

But much to the dismay of the group, all but one of the covered locations were tagged by the next day. Though the reaction was not unexpected, it was discouraging all the same.

"It is kind of a letdown," Troupe said Tuesday as he ventured out solo to cover some of the vandalized locations for a second time. "You would think they would want to keep the area nice — even the kids."

Though Troupe and his CC3 cohorts are new to the graffiti battle in Prineville, Duane Garner could be counted as a long-time veteran. Before taking over as Crook County Parks and Recreation District's executive director two years ago, he spent more than a decade in the maintenance department and often dealt with graffiti and other vandalism that plagues local parks and structures along the Ochoco Creek bike path.

Recent history suggests that acts of graffiti will spike this time of year.

"For the last three years, as soon as school goes back in session and there is less general use of the parks, vandalism often goes up. There is just a whole lot of illegitimate use going on right now especially," he said. "A lot of it is up and down the corridor of the bike path. They have tagged quite a few different things."

Garner said the parks district staff will notice patterns to the tags — similar colors or symbols in multiple locations — which suggests that the number of individuals or groups engaged in the behavior are relatively few.

"A lot of stuff we have been seeing looks more like witchcraft type of stuff," he notes. "Oftentimes, we will see drug-related stuff." Garner said park area vandalism, including graffiti, is a pretty regular occurrence. Not a week goes by when parks staff isn't dealing with some form of destruction.

But the parks district, with the help of city officials and local enforcement, is doing its best to fight back. Lighting and security cameras are currently getting installed along the bike path near the skate park and tennis courts.

"We are still working on it," Garner said of the lighting additions, adding that it is a city-led project that the parks district his aiding financially with grant funds. "The underground infrastructure is in to install the lights on the rest of the path through Ochoco Creek Park, so that will be happening sooner or later." Regarding security cameras, some have been installed and more are on the way in the future. Garner points out that the city has tied the cameras to the police dispatch center.

"They can monitor them and we can monitor them," he remarked. "We have them slated to be on the (new) light poles as they go in. That should help a bunch." Thanks to an improved relationship with the police department during the past three years, Garner believes that management of the graffiti problem has improved, despite the fact that more youth in the parks and a higher number of homeless people in the area has increased the likelihood of vandalism.

He highlights the addition of a park exclusion ordinance, developed by the police department, as a significant help.

The ordinance, passed in late 2016, gives police the legal authority to exclude people from a park for a finite period of time for certain offenses. If they enter the park during that exclusion timeframe, they could face criminal trespass charges.

"There is more of a bite to some of the people doing these things," said Officer James Young. "Some kids are more worried about losing the skate park for a month than they are a ticket or any community service they might get. The program seems to be working pretty well. The kids don't want to lose their privileges to be in these public places." When it comes to legal ramifications for graffiti vandalism, Young stresses that it is a criminal mischief offense through and through. He notes that certain Oregon Revised Statutes apply specifically to the application of graffiti and can result in offenders getting sentenced to graffiti removal.

"We definitely like to use those (laws) in the situations where we do find people," he said.

However, finding graffiti vandals is no simple feat. Young explains that it is rare to find someone in the midst of the act because police lack the resources to continuously patrol all of the potential tag sites.

"It is kind of luck, just like everything else," he said. "I recently caught somebody right in the middle of it. By the time I got down under the bridge, there was still a puff of paint floating through the air, and I caught them with paint on their hands. I literally caught them red-handed — actually in this case it was silver-handed."

Because those moments are the exception, police rely on other methods to track down graffiti vandals. Young said they scrutinize the tagging they find and document it in search of similarities that tie the offenses back to a certain person or group of people.

"If we can link those together and eventually down the road catch somebody, we can aggregate that (evidence) together into higher charges," he explained. "They get a different sentence and they are required to do more (community service)."

As the parks district and law enforcement work to find offenders and levy penalties for their actions, both Garner and Young are quick to encourage the work of CC3 and anyone else who picks up a paint brush and covers over new graffiti as it is found.

"Sometimes, yeah, it does give them a blank canvas to start over," Young admits, "but there are certain people who spend a lot of time when they do these things, and if it is covered up the next day, then maybe it will start incentivizing them to stop."

Troupe sees it the same way and is prepared to keep painting over top of graffiti for however long it takes to slow or eliminate the issue in Prineville.

"Hopefully, it will discourage them eventually," he said.

And in all likelihood, he won't have to go to battle on his own.

"Maybe we have to go out and do this 10 times, but I think the (CC3) group is pretty set on doing that," McDaniel said, adding that he hopes more citizens will join the cause going forward. "Instead of getting on a soapbox and complaining, why not take action? Grab a paint brush, grab a gallon of paint and go out and fix it."

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