City offers reward to nab ‘taggers’

Surfaces around Cottage Grove, from public property to private homes and businesses, have been the target of a rash of recent tagging.

In response to a recent wave of graffiti throughout the community, the City of Cottage Grove has issued a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the vandalism. 

The Cottage Grove Police Department (CGPD) is seeking help from the public in identifying the taggers (those who use graffiti to mark locations with initials or monikers).

The city has issued rewards “very sparingly” over such things, said CGPD Chief Scott Shepherd, “but this time seems to be a little bit hard to keep up. And it is literally costing either homeowners, business owners or the city a lot of money.”

Both public and private surfaces have been the target in the recent string of graffiti incidents.

Though tags have been removed or covered by city staff, in some cases those tags would be back the next day.

While some graffiti can be cleaned relatively easily by applying a remover like acetone, the latest spate of incidents has used a medium which has been harder to remove, thus ratcheting up cost.

Resorting to power washing, for instance, can cause damage to surfaces which need to be resealed or otherwise fixed as a result.

Shepherd estimated thousands of dollars’ worth of labor and cleaning materials have been spent on addressing the latest tagging.

“A lot of the stuff that we’re seeing now looks like it’s either some kind of permanent marker, or something like that, which is really hard to get off once it gets set,” he said.

On top of the cost, Shepherd explained that one reason for trying to solve the issue by issuing a reward is to draw a line in the sand when it comes to small town aesthetics.

“And something that we don’t want to allow to get to the degree that some areas have,” Shepherd said. “Just fences and fences of graffiti that just stay there and become part of the landscape.”

Graffiti is also addressed in the Cottage Grove Municipal Code, which states: “No owner or occupant of any real property shall permit graffiti to remain upon any permanently fixed object on the owner’s or occupant’s property for a period exceeding ten days after notice of graffiti’s existence.”

Another city ordinance, in setting terms for an agreement with Emerald People’s Utility District, directs the power company to, within a reasonable time, remove graffiti on electrical facilities upon notification from the city.

Recently, graffiti tags have popped up at places like the J. Polk Currin Swinging Bridge, the old Harrison Elementary School, Bohemia and Coiner parks, on play structure equipment, several historical bridges, informational panels in Veterans Park and various other buildings and structures throughout the city.

The latest tags are hardly a new trend in Cottage Grove, however.

The CGPD gets two to four calls a week regarding graffiti, which Shepherd said is “pretty significant.”

Oregon law states that “unlawfully applying graffiti” is a Class A misdemeanor which may involve up to 100 hours of community service, including removing the graffiti, as a punishment.

Within the last few years, Shepherd recalled at least one Cottage Grove culprit who was made to clean up his own graffiti after being caught.

Shepherd is optimistic there are enough clues to track down those responsible in the recent cases as well.

“We see some distinctive patterns and monikers and stuff that — once we put together some information — I think will assist us in holding a few people accountable, at least,” he said. “Monikers or symbols and graffiti that are similar in nature are kind of like a signature and we can go back once we’ve identified suspects and their particular signature. … And we intend on charging them with multiple counts.”

Public response since announcement of the reward last week has “drummed up a lot of interest,” said Shepherd, adding to the optimism that the taggers will be identified.

“I think that this is a problem that we certainly want to get a handle on,” he said. “Not only be-cause it is an eyesore, but we need to look at the cost, particularly during this COVID time, for businesses and private parties and even the city to have to deal with something in addition to all of the other things that life’s throwing at us right now. … So it’s important that we look forward to getting information from folks so we can hold people accountable.”

As of press time, no suspects had been identified as involved in the criminal mischief and the investigation was ongoing.

Anyone with any information is asked to contact the Cottage Grove Police Department at 541-942-9145, ext. 1.

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