A graffiti crew has been specializing in alleys on upper Queen Anne Hill, according to a homeowner who says he caught one of the taggers near midnight on a recent Saturday. The graffiti vandal didn't stay caught, though.
The homeowner doesn't want to be identified because he fears retaliation, but the man said that for the past year the same three of four tags have been repeatedly spray-painted on walls and buildings facing alleys at the top of the Hill.
That's not all. He's convinced the same graffiti crew has a sideline: egging homes and vehicles, including his. The egg connection is significant for a couple of reasons.
Caught in the act of tagging a wall in the alley when the homeowner drove up, four taggers ran straight at him, "dropping eggs as they went," the man said.
He ran after them for several blocks, calling 911 a couple of times on his cell phone along the way. Police showed up 15 minutes later, but it was too late. "They were gone," the man said.
But not completely, he added. "I was on my way back, and I seen this kid (from the crew he chased) walking on the street with something under his coat."
That something turned out to be a case of eggs, and the man grabbed the teen, a boy who lives in the area and apparently wasn't impressed by the man. "When I first caught the kid, he was kind of blowing it off," said the homeowner, who called police a second time.
"Once police came, his whole attitude changed," the man added. "He turned into a total wimp." But the boy had an excuse for carting around that many eggs so late at night. He said they belonged to a friend, according to the police report.
The teen had a different excuse for the homeowner. "Oh, I'm getting these for my mother," the man quoted the boy as saying.
Although he concedes he didn't see the teen he caught tagging that night, the homeowner swears he's chased the same boy before for tagging in the area. But that wasn't good enough for police, who noted that no paint cans were found in the area and that the boy didn't have any paint on him.
In the end, the boy was turned over to his father, and police aren't recommending he be charged, said Detective Rod Hardin, who heads up graffiti-emphasis patrol in the North End.
"I can tell you lots of success stories," Hardin said of catching and prosecuting taggers. "In this case, it wasn't one of them."
In any event, not a lot happens to juveniles when they're caught tagging, and juveniles make up the vast majority of graffiti vandals, according to Hardin.
The youths end up in a diversion program that wipes their record clean if they pay restitution and perform 14 hours of community service, he said. "I would recommend 200 hours."
Most taggers have self-esteem problems and come from middle- to upper-class families, and their parents usually end up paying the restitution, Hardin said.
Jeremy Zucker, who was on the street when the homeowner caught the alleged tagger, said the homeowner was more forceful than he would have been under the same circumstances.
Zucker understands the homeowner's frustration; a retaining wall at his home has been tagged by the same crew. But he points out a misconception about taggers.
"There's certain people in the neighborhood who think the tagging is gang-related," Zucker said. "This is some rich white kids getting their yah-yahs off."
Vic Roberson agrees there's rarely a gang connection. He's the manager of graffiti cleanup programs for Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), and Roberson said that less than 10 percent of tags are gang-related.
Even so, it costs the city around $1 million a year to fix the graffiti problem, and that's just for public property, he said. Owners of homes and buildings are responsible for their own clean-up costs, along with fines of $100 a day if the graffiti aren't removed in a reasonable amount of time, according to city regulations.
But at least owners of private property got a bit of a break last year. According to calls to SPU's Graffiti Report Line (684-7587), there were 1,417 complaints about graffiti on private property in 2004, which is down from 2,000 in 2003.
However, calls about graffiti on public property went up to 4,048 last year from 3,820 in 2003.
Those are the statistics. Behind them lie frustrated homeowners like the one in this story. "It makes you really mad," he said. The man added that he pays $10,000 a year in property tax to live in a home on top of Queen Anne Hill.
"And here they are trying to run it into the ground," the home-owner fumed. "They'll get caught if it's the last thing I do."
The man even has a plan. He said he's going to install security cameras around his place.
Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the phone at 461-1309.