Fresno Police declare war on a deadly tagging trend

FRESNO, Calif.

Fresno Police have long battled gangs, but now they're setting their sights on another growing threat -- groups of vandals called "tagging crews."

Tuesday night, a 21-year-old man was murdered in what police are now calling a "tagger's dispute." And police say there have been several similar shootings over the past month alone. Tuesday night's shooting involved an ongoing feud between two groups of graffiti vandals.

Dealing with taggers is nothing new for the city. But, Chief Jerry Dyer says the issue has escalated so much, his department is now trying to validate taggers as gang members.

From walls and fences to city owned property, graffiti in Fresno is hard to miss.

Police Chief Jerry Dyer says many of the people responsible for this form of vandalism are taking a much more violent approach. "These are no longer simply tagging crews. They are really acting as gang members."

This year, there have been 40 shootings in the city of Fresno involving taggers. 13 of those have occurred within the past two months. "Of the 40 tagger related shootings we've had in our city, 24 of them have been drive-by shootings, so these individuals are taking it to a new level."

The latest incident happened Tuesday night in East Central Fresno. Candles and mementos now rest where 21-year-old Jairo Mendez was killed.

Investigators say Mendez was walking home from the store with a 15-year-old friend when a car drove by and someone inside started shooting. Several bullets struck Mendez, killing him. Police believe he and the gunman are rival taggers.

Back in March of this year -- 18-year-old Antonio Lopez was also shot and killed in East Central Fresno under the same circumstances.

Chief Dyer insists his department is using a proactive approach in dealing with the problem. "We are addressing it aggressively with our district crime suppression team, as well as members of our street violence section and we are in the process of validating many of these groups and individuals as gang members."

Police say they can't validate all taggers as gang members because they have to abide by certain state-mandated criteria in order to do so.

Meanwhile, police are still searching for the gunmen involved in last night's shooting. They do however, have several solid leads.

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