NEWS

Graffiti everywhere

The sign of Ben Miller Family Park with graffiti on it
The Willamette Manor Park sign tagged with VC14, a tag associated with the street gang Varrio Catorce
Graffiti found in a Keizer neighborhood with a VC marking, a tag sometimes associated with the gang, Varrio Catorce

For the last several months, many Keizerites may have noticed the increase in graffiti around town near residences, in the parks and in other high traffic walking areas.

According to Parks Division Manager Robert Johnson, the graffiti nowadays is “the worst I have seen in my almost 17 years working for Keizer.”

“It is starting to take up a lot of our staff’s time removing it and painting over it,” Johnson finished.

Johnson noted that graffiti most often shows up in the following places: the Tepper Tunnel, Bob Newton Park, Willamette Manor Park, Keizer Rapids Park and at the Keizer Skate park.

Cleaning up the graffiti takes up not only the time of Public Works, but it takes bites out of their wallet due to purchasing battery-powered paint sprayers and paint to cover the tagging. 

The trouble of locating and cleaning the graffiti also takes time away from Keizer Code Enforcement officer Ben Crosby, who Johnson indicated spends a great deal of his time and labor helping alleviate the city of the unwanted artwork. 

When asked what the graffiti meant, Johnson noted that his conversations with Keizer Police revealed that some of the artwork might be gang-related. 

According to Keizer Police Chief Andrew Copeland, a portion of the graffiti appears to be gang iconography, specifically from the Norteños and Sureños, California-based street gangs with splinters throughout the western U.S. 

As previously reported in Keizertimes, the Norteños and Sureños, rival gangs, are the main groups for a variety of affiliated gangs in Oregon. 

Norteños use the color red to represent themselves while Sureños members are represented by the color blue. 

Each of these main groups has dozens of smaller affiliated groups such as the Hang Out Boyz (HOBZ) who are attached to Sureños or the Varrio Catorce (VC) for the Norteños.

Copeland described how there has been an overall rise in the amount of graffiti in Keizer over the last several months with 45 separate reports of graffiti since October 2023, though only a handful has been attributed to gangs. 

Copeland noted that while he can not attribute all of the graffiti to being done by gang members, the gang-related tagging appearing in Keizer is consistent with information put out by both the Salem Police Department and Salem-Keizer Public Schools who report similar activity. 

“Can we say for certain that it is [gang-related]? No, but it does appear to be consistent with other sources making claims that the tags are gang-related,” Copeland stated.

In order to stem the graffiti in the city, Copeland stated how officers patrol parks looking for graffiti and those creating it and have also begun recruiting citizens living near areas where graffiti often appears to perform checks later at night. 

He stated that the department has reached out to work with local churches in Keizer to create a mentorship program for at-risk youth within the school district. 

Reasoning for this revolves around the increased amount of fights occurring at McNary as well as gangs attempting to recruit children there, according to Copeland. 

This reasoning also led to the closing of campus for freshman and sophomores on the McNary campus as well with the school and police arriving at the decision together. 

A point the chief of police stressed as well was the notion that despite the specter of gang activity here in Keizer, there has not been a real increase in people being hurt or attacked by gangs, with most of the issues being gang retaliations against other gangs. 

Keizerites who spot graffiti around town or in one of the parks are encouraged to report it to the Keizer Police via their graffiti portal at Keizer.org.

Graffiti found on the restroom building near the kids park at Keizer Rapids Park
More graffiti denoting VC14
Tagging found on the side of a Keizer resident’s house earlier this year
More graffiti inside the Teper Tunnel
Public Works staff cleaning and repainting tagging that occurred at Keizer Rapids Park

Contact Quinn Stoddard
[email protected] or 503-390-1051

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