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Gang-related graffiti shows up in Central Point and Medford

Suspected gang members have sprayed the Rogue Valley with graffiti in recent days, spurring clean-up efforts and an investigation to track down the culprits and hold them accountable, police said.

"We don't like graffiti in general, but gang graffiti is especially important to remove quickly," said Lt. Tim Doney, head of the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement team.

Spray-painted marks associated with a Sureños gang offshoot called RAW, an acronym for Ready and Willing, showed up across Central Point and Medford starting Sunday.

Central Point police Capt. Chuck Newell said officers got a few graffiti reports on Sunday, then were hit with 15 additional cases on Tuesday morning, after gangs apparently spent Monday night tagging fences, signs, bridge abutments and other spots all over town.

Newell noted that sometimes such graffiti is limited to a single neighborhood, but this time it was scattered across town.

"In the dark and the fog, they covered a lot of area," he said.

Medford also has 15 gang-related graffiti cases logged so far this year and more reports still being processed, Doney said. The marks, all associated with Sureños, showed up along the Bear Creek Greenway near Hawthorne Park, along the railroad tracks through the center of town, in a neighborhood off West Main Street and in locations near Central Medford High School.

A graffiti-eradication team of young offenders from the juvenile division of Jackson County Community Justice and a community service officer removed all the graffiti from around the school Monday before classes resumed after winter break, Doney said.

Medford ordinances require property owners to remove graffiti, but the team helps out, especially when owners face financial hardship, Doney said. Since the team started in July 2010, it has cleaned up 363 sites, 127 of which had gang-related graffiti, he said.

Central Point has a code enforcement officer who removes graffiti, and public works employees also step in with power-washers and sand-blasters when needed, Newell said. He estimated that cleanup in Central Point would cost thousands of dollars.

"It's a terrible waste of taxpayer money and a livability issue to see the marks in our neighborhoods," Newell said of graffiti.

However, police also have larger concerns.

"Our biggest concern is what caused this," Newell explained. "Is it just posturing or is one side gearing up to do something more?"

He said that about three weeks ago, Norteños, a rival gang also active in the Rogue Valley, left marks across Central Point.

"These are people who shoot or stab someone over wearing the wrong color," Newell said. "You're dealing with young people who are so unpredictable."

Self-professed RAW affiliates have been involved in assaults in the Rogue Valley.

Getting the people responsible for the latest round of graffiti into custody might help prevent escalating violence and it will show that gang activity isn't tolerated here, police said.

Doney said police have some leads.

"We want community help so we can find the people doing this," Newell said.

Crime Stoppers of Southern Oregon is offering a reward for information that leads to an arrest. Callers can share information at 1-800-850-0580 or call the MADGE tipline at 541-618-1847.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.