During the peak of Atwater's financial crisis, the police department had to eliminate the team that was focusing on graffiti. But now it once again has officers on the street targeting taggers.
Large black letters and numbers covered a church in Atwater Wednesday morning. The same "666" and initials were spray painted on the nearby Landmark Tabernacle Church one day earlier, stirring a mix of emotions in its members.
Pastor Donald Hyler says he quickly had the hateful symbols covered to keep the vandals from enjoying their work. The owners of the funeral chapel also wasted no time painting over the graffiti they discovered Tuesday morning.
The Atwater Police Department had to eliminate its anti-graffiti team when the city sat on the brink of bankruptcy last year. But now with a balanced budget and a voter approved tax increase in place, the department has re-instated a temporary team to target taggers.
Lt. Sammy Joseph said, "They are going out and identifying the monikers to the person, and they're going out with the assistance of the probation department and other agencies, they're doing probation checks and making arrests, several arrests, and they're getting confessions."
Lieutenant Sammy Joseph says the officers have arrested at least 15 vandals since starting their effort in late May, and they believe it's making a difference.
Lt. Joseph added, "We've seen a drastic drop in the amount of vandalism reports we've had."
Police say taggers are often tied to burglaries and other crimes to pay for their habit, so getting them off the streets is a priority. And Pastor Hyler agrees it may be the only way to stop the suspects.
"It's sad to say sometimes the only deterrent is maybe incarceration," said Pastor Hyler. "We don't desire that for them, but something's got to change."
The Atwater Police Department is planning to hire more officers once money from the new sales tax starts coming in.
And Lieutenant Joseph says the goal is to have a permanent two-person team to focus on vandalism in the city.