By ANDY SEVILLA
The San Marcos City Council will consider a measure allowing city police more discretionary authority over crimes not yet committed.
An ordinance before the council at its Feb. 17 meeting will define and restrict the possession of graffiti implements, providing penalties for violations.
San Marcos Police Chief Howard Williams said the ordinance is timed to work with the council’s graffiti eradication program. The program included the purchase of a $32,000 soda-blaster that uses baking soda and/or high pressure air and water to eliminate graffiti.
“The council has made it pretty clear to us that they want (graffiti) gone,” Williams said.
The ordinance would make it illegal to carry indelible markers or aerosol paint containers on school or public property after hours. It also prohibits carrying said tools within 10 feet of bridges and public infrastructure at all times. If a person is caught violating the restrictions, police officers would have to determine if an unlawful act was about to occur.
“What we want is the ability to step in and prevent damage before it happens,” Williams said. “It gives us an opportunity to stop graffiti before it happens.”
Williams said property affixed with graffiti invites more crimes, such as littering and vandalism. His argument is amplified by the “broken windows” theory developed by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.
“If public authorities worry about order, it affects the way people behave,” Wilson said in a Los Angeles Times report.
The same report identifies New York City as the most famous example of the “broken windows” theory.
“New York City saw a 50 percent reduction in crime in the 1990s after then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and then-Police Commissioner William J. Bratton cracked down on squeegee-wielding panhandlers and the like,” the report said.
However, experts disagree about the evidence.
“An array of social scientists examined the (New York) City’s crime statistics, and many of them concluded that factors like the booming economy and decline of crack cocaine were actually responsible for the dramatic improvement,” the Los Angeles Times report said.
The ordinance stipulates that police can’t ticket suspects until first asking the individual why she is present within 10 feet of a bridge or public infrastructure with restricted materials. The legislation adds that the officer must “reasonably believe” that an offense has occurred and a “defense” is not present.
The ordinance defines an “affirmative defense” as a finding that the apparent offender “uses the graffiti implement in their employment or in connection with a school, civic, or religious activity or has written permission from the director or owner of the premises to engage in an authorized activity utilizing the (graffiti) implements.”
The ordinance also allows for parental punishment after children between ages 10 and 17 have committed a first offense.
“This isn’t an effort to get people in trouble,” Williams said. “We’re only interested in holding people responsible for graffiti and parents responsible for juvenile graffiti.”
Offenses under this ordinance are Class C Misdemeanors carrying fines not to exceed $500. The ordinance provides that a fine for a first offense can’t be less than $50, while a fine for a second offense can’t be less than $100.
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