Tip Sheet Graffiti and Tagging

Halton Regional Police Service
Graffiti and Tagging
Tip Sheet
Attention: The following information is for use as a guideline only. Graffiti is generally very localized to any given community.
Law enforcement should be notified of any possible “gang” graffiti immediately.
Graffiti is the name for “images or lettering scratched, scrawled, painted or marked in any manner on property” (Wikipedia).
Not all graffiti is illegal. The person(s) may have permission to paint on a particular wall or property which is quite common in
the City of Toronto through their “legal Graffiti Art” program.
To most citizens graffiti is a nuisance and may are under the false impression that all graffiti is gang related. This could not be
further from the truth.
Gang graffiti comprises about 3-5% of all graffiti in a given area. This percentage may be higher depending on the amount of
gang activity present.
Most graffiti falls under the category of “tagger or hip-hop” style. This makes up about 80% of the total. Other types of graffiti
found are:
• Satanic/Cult
• Latrinalia or (Bathroom graffiti)
• Political Activism
• Hate motivated
• Folk Epigraphy
A tagger is a person who seeks notoriety by vandalizing as many properties as possible with graffiti without getting caught by
law enforcement. They do not, however, consider themselves gang members, and seldom engage in criminal activity other than
This type of graffiti is often done in out of the way places such as under bridges, rear of industrial buildings, on trains, etc.
Graffiti can be classified into three basic types or styles that are known as tagging, bombing, and piecing.
Tagging is the simplest and quickest, involving only the marking of the tagger’s initials, symbol, or alias. This may be in the
manner of unreadable writing or initials (generally one colour and one dimensional), often done with spray paint. They can also
use markers or paint pens to place their initials or “tag” on a variety of surfaces such as mail boxes and all manner of utility
boxes, street signs, bus shelters, etc. These taggers are called “writers.”
Bombing takes a little more time to complete and may be multicolored, detailed and 2 dimensional. They may “tag” an entire
wall with many different images.
Piecing is the highest level and often takes extensive time and work to complete. Those who create these elaborate designs are
called “piecers,” after the “masterpieces” they do. The work is generally very artistic and clever with many hidden messages in it.
The piece with be multi-dimensional, multi-coloured and detailed. Several members of the crew may work on the “piece”.
Excellence IntegrityJustice
Gang Graffiti:
Gangs use graffiti to show their control over an area or to warn their movement into an area controlled by another gang. It is used
to show who is in a gang and to expand a gang’s reputation.
Recognizing gang graffiti is crucial as its meaning and intent may forewarn the “reader” of potential problems and precipitated
violence allowing pro-active measures to be taken by law enforcement.
Gang graffiti appears for a number of reasons:
List gang members (nicknames)
Tells a history of gang activity
Denotes turf and intimidates
Respect for dead members (RIP)
Wall of Justice (Targets rival gangs)-using 187 or X-out
Mark where a crime was committed
Gang Graffiti is usually SIMPLISTIC in style. They want you and rival gang members to read and understand it. It will demark the
start of their “turf” and hopefully instill fear into the community at large. It is generally done in areas frequented by the public.
Types of Gang Graffiti:
1. “Hitting Up” – This is graffiti used to promote a specific gang.
2. “Crossing Out” – This is graffiti that one gang may create to “put down” another gang. The use of “X outs” or crossing out
another gangs tag is used to send a very clear message of disrespect and generally precipitates gang violence. The use of the
number “187” (section # for murder in California’s penal code) in relation to a gangs tag or a specific member of a gang/
person is marked for death.
3. “Roll Calls” – This is a list of members of a specific gang.
4. “RIP” – This is used by gang members to show respect to a deceased member.
There are three ways to look at graffiti to determine if it may be gang related:
1. What colours are being used? (i.e. Red=Bloods, Blue=Crips, etc) This may help determine not only the gang but the writer.
2. What is the writing style? This is important sometimes as gang graffiti is generally bland and simplistic with little or no
artistic value. However, certain gangs are known for certain letters or styles (i.e. Hispanic /Mexican gang graffiti is usually
done in block lettering or Olde English style)
3. What kind of an area is the graffiti located in? Is the area known to be a gang area, high crime or concentrated gatherings of
Things to Look for in Gang Graffiti:
The gang name
The message trying to be conveyed to the reader
The writer’s identity
The use of symbols, numbers and letters
Letters written upside down or backwards
Certain letters or names crossed out
The use of pitchforks, crowns and stars (# of points is important)
What You Can Do:
It is not necessary for citizens to be able to decipher the exact meaning of graffiti, but it is important that they recognize it as
possibly gang-related and take steps to notify the police. When you come across graffiti, remember the “4 R’s”:
Record It: If you have been victimized by graffiti vandalism you need to record it for evidence and insurance purposes. Take
photos of the vandalized area and record when it occurred. This information will be required when you report it.
Report It: All citizens and property owners are encouraged to report graffiti (especially if there is a possibility it is gang related)
on public and private property whenever it is spotted.
Read It: Every effort should be made to have the graffiti read by someone who knows how and what the message may symbolize.
Remove It: Every effort should be made to remove the graffiti as soon as possible after recording and reporting it. It’s important
to send graffiti offenders the message that graffiti will promptly be removed from your property and will not be tolerated.
Excellence IntegrityJustice