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Volunteers help police nab three graffiti suspects in a week

A volunteer group dedicated to cleaning up graffiti in Medford also has played a key role in pointing police toward several suspected vandals, police say.

The agency has netted three arrests in the past week and is closing in on some others, thanks in part to help from West Side Beautification, a police spokesman says.

"We have to give credit to them," Lt. Mike Budreau says. "They're taking it upon themselves. We're just really appreciative of what they're doing."

Police recently arrested Pedro Sanchez-Comacho, 18, Heath Sartin, 27 and Jason Wilton, 27. Police say Sanchez-Comacho's taggings were gang-related, while those of Sartin and Wilton were not.

(Correction: See below)

West Side Beautification began about two months ago in response to the ongoing problem of graffiti tags in west Medford. To date, 182 incidents have been reported in 2015. It's a crime property owners are responsible for cleaning up within 10 days under Medford city code. If they don't, they could receive a $250 fine.

Volunteers have stepped up to address the problem. More than 600 people have joined West Side Beautification's Facebook page, and paint donations have come in from individuals and businesses.

Group founder Randi Brock says painting over graffiti in a timely manner has always been the main mission, but being on the lookout for culprits is also key.

"That was one of my aims from the get-go, to encourage people to be more aware," Brock says. "And to call it in."

Social media has been a great aid, she adds, as many taggers post photos, and sometimes even video, of their exploits. Group members were able to pair a particular design — "H-Bong" — to Sartin after a Google search.

"It pulled (his) Instagram page right up," Brock says. "It was that easy."

Fees and community service can be levied against anyone convicted of the crime under Oregon law. Budreau says there are programs for juvenile taggers, including cleanup programs through Jackson County Juvenile Justice.

Continued coordination between police and the volunteer group will have a ripple effect and significantly reduce the graffiti problem over time, police say.

"It's having an impact," Budreau says. "There's no question. Graffiti cases won't go away entirely, but they're going to slow down."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Correction: The first name of one of the three arrested by police has been corrected in this edition.