On balmy and sunny afternoon, a trio of women gathered Tuesday in Independence to do something about what two of them believe is a growing graffiti and property crimes problem in the city.

On balmy and sunny afternoon, a trio of women gathered Tuesday in Independence to do something about what two of them believe is a growing graffiti and property crimes problem in the city.

Tina Wyatt-Rockers, block watch captain for a neighborhood in the Susquehanna area, and anti-crime advocate Elisa Breitenbach joined Helen Matson, the city’s volunteer services coordinator, to help paint over three graffiti-laced walls under a bridge at an area park.

Breitenbach and Wyatt-Rockers have organized several neighborhood meetings hoping to gain the community’s support to help combat property crimes such as vandalism and graffiti and now they – frustrated by what Breitenbach believes is a “lawless community” when it comes to arresting and punishing area youths – have taken matters literally into their own hands.

“She (Breitenbach) spotted this and let us now about it,” Matson said, adding the city’s Park and Recreation Department supplied the group with buckets of white paint and brushes to cover the profane messages sprawled on the walls of the bridge. “So we said when the weather’s good we’ve gotta get down there and clean it up.”

Asked what happens if the taggers come back and defaced the bridge again, Wyatt-Rockers said “we’ll be back and we’re going to keep coming back.”

Said Matson: “If you stay on top of it and you keep cleaning it up, they’ll (taggers) just give up. So, that’s what we are going to do.”

The women’s efforts come on the heels of a presentation Monday night by Eric Urfer, director of Parks and Recreation. Urfer informed the Independence City Council the department plans to begin in the late spring/early summer an Eagle Eye neighborhood park watch program patterned after a successful program developed by the Illinois Association of Park Districts.

The program, under way in 13 states throughout the country, helps reduce crime and vandalism to playground and park equipment and decreases suspicious activities in parks by involving citizens, authorities, schools, civic organizations and neighbors of a particular park, Urfer said.

“The program’s mission is pretty straightforward,” Urfer said, adding four city parks will serve as test sites for the new program – Rotary, Hill, Cler-Mont and Santa Fe parks.

“Those are some of the parks where we have been having issues,” Urfer said, “but we also have some pretty good neighbors.”

Community involvement is a a key component of the Eagle Eye program, Urfer said, as well as the city’s T.A.G. program instituted last year.

Together Against Graffiti or T.A.G., a national initiative to curb the practice, is also addressing the graffiti problems in the city, Urfer said. The program consists of city staff, police officers, the court system and attorneys for the city working in conjunction with civic groups, residents, businesses and school officials to fight the cause through education, eradication and enforcement.
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The goal of T.A.G. is to create awareness and empower citizens to get involved in fighting graffiti, require businesses to remove graffiti from property in a timely fashion, report and track graffiti-related incidents.

“The (Eagle Eye) program doesn’t change our T.A.G. program, Urfer said. “It actually enhances it.”

A revised graffiti ordinance also passed last year makes it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to purchase spray paint or graffiti-related marking instruments and prohibits those under 18 from possessing near schools or public facilities, without permission, graffiti-related instruments such as airbrushes, paint guns or etching equipment.

Parents of children 18 or under in violation of the proposed ordinance would also be subjected to fines and/or community service, with a maximum fine of $500 and restitution and 40 hours of community service.

The amount of an award for a person providing information leading to an arrest and conviction of a person suspected of violating the ordinance could net a tipster up to $200.

“What we need is mounted police officers to patrol our parks,” Breitenbach said. “It works in other cities, why not here?”