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Graffiti problem given the brushoff

A deputy gets all the defacing language painted over with the help of juvenile offenders.

Published August 5, 2005

WIMAUMA - The graffiti letters read THUG LIFE.

The words covered the sign pointing to the Hillsborough County sheriff's community station in Wimauma.

Deputy Andrew DeLuna wasn't happy. It was June, and for the past two months graffiti had slowly crept over Wimauma's surfaces, appearing nightly on trailers and telephone posts, businesses and street signs.

Big, crooked letters named the town's street gangs, as well as some from neighboring communities: West Side Boyz, South Side, Latin Life, Tropical Acres Boys. Through the graffiti, the gangs taunted and challenged each other. "It was really bad," DeLuna said. "It was terrible. It happened really quickly."

Business and homeowners were afraid to paint over the gang graffiti, DeLuna said, because they knew it would reappear. "They didn't like it," he said. "It tears up the neighborhood. It makes a neighborhood look real cheap."

LaRoche Wrecker Service, a tow shop at 5701 North St., was hit three times. Sue Newberry, the towing company's dispatcher, said she asked some of the neighborhood youths to ask their friends to stop marking up the building. But to no avail.

"They're just young punks who think they're going to get some kind of reputation," Newberry said. "If I was a gang leader, I'd pinch their heads off, because that brings the Sheriff's Office down on them."

Gang graffiti is a recurrent problem throughout South County. Last November, Gibsonton suffered the same indignities. Riverview and Ruskin also were hit.

Back then, Gibsonton community resource officer Joe Venero solved the problem by having young inmates at the Falkenberg Academy juvenile detention facility paint over the graffiti.

In Wimauma, Deputy DeLuna took a similar approach. First, he went to talk to individual gang members. He wouldn't detail the conversations.

"They were upset for us being there," he said.

Then, he said, he arranged for teenagers from the local Youth Environmental Services camp to help paint over the graffiti.

The YES camp is a program begun in 1993 that allows juvenile offenders to work on environmental projects instead of serving at traditional detention facilities.

Since then, DeLuna said, the walls of the town have remained blank canvases.

"Everything has been quiet," he said. "There's not been a mark of graffiti on anything we have painted."

[Last modified August 4, 2005, 08:44:02]

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