Repeat taggers beware: You may be getting away with vandalizing community property now, but know that your photo might be plastered all over the Gilroy Police Department. In a very literal sense, police have got their eye on you.
Gilroy Police believe that most of the recent “surge” in graffiti done by teens this summer can be traced back to just a handful of repeat offenders, and are kept track of in a secret intelligence document known as the “Lucky Seven.”
The Lucky Seven, conceived by the GPD in 1998 and handled by the Anti-Crime Team, is a list of seven people who are allegedly infamous troublemakers who just haven’t been caught – yet. The document, which boasts photos of both criminals and suspected criminals, is not available to the public, but is dispersed to all Gilroy patrol officers so that anyone in the department can recognize their faces right away, said Police Sgt. Chad Gallacinao.
The Lucky Seven isn’t always about taggers, in fact, it often hosts the faces of far more violent crimes. But that could change at any moment, and often does: When one member is no longer a problem in the community, their face is removed from the Lucky Seven and another “lucky” person is added, Gallacinao said. Right now, however, tagging is the name of the game, with all but one of the Lucky Seven members being known as repeat taggers. Five of the seven are also juveniles.
“The fact that the majority of the Lucky Seven are taggers right now reflects what a problem graffiti has been lately,” Gallacinao said.
It’s tough to punish teens for vandalism, Gallacinao said, because juveniles are not held to the same punitive action as adults in court.
“With teens, it is a revolving door, where they are routinely arrested, routinely released and routinely re-offend,” Gallacinao said.
“The juvenile justice system is about rehabilitation, not punishment,” he said. “We respect and support their mission, obviously, but as a police department, our main focus is on serving our community.”
At times, those missions clash.
“It can be frustrating to arrest the same juvenile for the same crime over and over again, and then the community gets frustrated at us for not holding the juvenile responsible,” he said.
Gallacinao said it is very rare for a juvenile to be punished for repeat graffiti offenses with any sort of long-term incarceration.
The Lucky Seven fluctuates so much because with every patrol officer aware of who they are, they are often apprehended quickly or change their behavior to no longer be a problem in the community.
“These names could all change next week,” Gallacinao said. “Often, those on this list become aware they are being watched by police, and feel uncomfortable enough to stop doing whatever they were doing.”
While mere presence on the list doesn’t give police any more rights to search or contact a Lucky Seven member than any other citizen, it does make police aware of who they are – and most of the time, those on the Lucky Seven create enough reasons on their own for police contact.
What was started as a gang-violence prevention tactic, in the late 1990s, the Lucky Seven depicted a dream-team of suspect gang member photos and other not-yet arrested violent criminals.
But in the months following Operation Garlic Press and Operation Royal Flush, two undercover anti gang-crime operations that busted more than 200 criminals in 2011, gang activity subsided, Gallacinao said, and the Lucky Seven list morphed to show the faces of “lesser” criminals – namely, teens involved in theft and vandalism.
“The Lucky Seven is mainly about sharing information within the department,” Gallacinao said. “Keeping track of who these people are makes it easier to apprehend them, or even better yet, prevent a crime from ever happening.”
Wipeout Watch is a team of about 65 community volunteers who take daily walks in assigned areas (usually their own neighborhood) in search of graffiti to remove.
Without Wipeout Watch, police say that Gilroy would be a pretty unsightly place to live.
“If I saw some (graffiti) now, it would most likely be gone within two or three hours, that’s how fast they work,” said Joseph Deras, Gilroy Police Sgt. “Most graffiti on city property is eradicated before the public even sees it.”
The volunteers say they take on graffiti out of pride for their community.
“I’m really proud of Gilroy, and I love when it looks clean,” said Rachel Coffey, 68-year-old Wipeout Watch volunteer. “And it takes a village to do that.”
To be a part of the Wipeout Watch team, all you need is a pair of sneakers, and the desire to see your neighborhood graffiti-free. Paint and removal supplies are donated by local businesses.
If you’re interested in volunteering for Wipeout Watch, call 408-846-0525.
To report graffiti sightings to the 24-hour graffiti reporting hotline, call 408-846-0395.