The City of Fresno battles graffiti vandals

FRESNO, Calif.

Fresno police say tagging is taking on a whole new meaning... And officers are now mobilizing to take on the newest group whose intentions are far worse than just defacing property.

Fresno Police say the murder of 18-year-old Antonio Lopez in March was directly related to a dispute among taggers. Since January police have seen these groups behaving more like ruthless gang members.

"We don't consider them just taggers, they are truly a gang and we're going to treat them like a gang," said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.

Since January 1st, officers have been called out to 24 incidents of violence involving taggers and tagging crews. The police chief says spray paint is the least of what many have on hand. "They're carrying firearms when they are out there, involved in tagging property. They are more quickly retaliating against other tagging crews. It's not uncommon for these individuals to be doing drive by shootings involving residences. And obviously they've shot two people this year and killed one."

Sarah Gharibian moved to Central Fresno just over a month ago from Los Angeles. She noticed the tagging wars immediately. "I actually have tagging in my garage which is really weird to me because you know it's the inside of a private property and yet it seems like nowhere is safe."

Search warrants served after the murder of Lopez helped police recover a sawed off shotgun and a suspect for his murder.

Police have since formed task force units to target taggers. Undercover operations are also working to catch graffiti vandals in progress. Police say 19 houses have been hit by taggers in drive by shootings -- putting innocent lives in danger.

Police have served warrants at more than 200 addresses where taggers live and are either on parole or probation. They have also made several hundred arrests for misdemeanor and felony crimes related to tagging.

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