Forest Grove family invites kids to paint fence hit by graffiti

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Forest Grove Fire Marshal Dave Nemeyer (left, with roller) and his son Benjamin, 2, paint over graffiti that marred an alleyway fence behind the familys B Street home last week. On Sunday, neighbors, family members and friends showed up at Aimee and Dave Nemeyer's Forest Grove home with paintbrushes, rollers and can-do attitudes. Their hosts were ready with gallons of donated paint and a creative plan for a sunny mid-winter afternoon.

After their back fence was hit with graffiti last week, the couple decided to fight back by holding a paint-over party for all comers. A small army of volunteers arrived just before noon to reinvent the aesthetics on a 100-foot, alleyway fence behind their house on B Street.

It was the third time the Nemeyers had been tagged since 2005, the year they moved into their tan two-story home near Forest Grove High School.

"We've always had problems with this," said Dave Nemeyer, the fire marshal at Forest Grove Fire & Rescue. "It's pretty frustrating."

The Nemeyers' four boys, who range in age from 2 to 10, alternately took swipes at the fence with brushes bathed in yellow, brown and turquoise paint and rode around on their bikes. The youngest ones joined their grandmother, artist Donna Vandyke — appropriately clad in coveralls — to get the job done.

For more than three hours, the industrious crew worked tirelessly to cover up the Navy blue tags, which included gang-related signs and "some pretty bad cuss words," said Aimee Nemeyer, who came up with the idea for the Great Un-Tagging Party.

"We're just turning the kids loose with paint and we'll see what we get," said her husband, who wielded a mean roller himself. "I joke that it'll be the ugliest fence in the city."

'Definite upswing'

There's little doubt the family's efforts pleased Forest Grove Police Chief Janie Schutz, who said Monday her department was making plans of its own to curb "a definite upswing" in the amount of graffiti appearing around town since Feb. 1.

"We've been hit hard lately with this kind of criminal mischief," said Schutz, who has responded by ordering extra surveillance in areas where the tagging has been prevalent: B Street at Willamina Avenue and Primrose Lane and at Mountain View Lane and 19th Avenue near Neil Armstrong Middle School.

Schutz believes the perpetrators are between the ages of 12 and 16 and are hitting their targets at night. What's unknown is how they're getting access to spray paint — and why they're able to carry out the tagging well past the city's 10 p.m. curfew.

"It seems like the parents aren't caring enough to say, 'Hey, it's 10 o'clock at night … where's my kid?'" she said.

To combat the problem, Schutz is working with Capt. Mike Herb, her department's public information officer, and Theresa Kohl, its community service officer, to create a graffiti task force made up of concerned neighbors and volunteers. She hopes to launch the group, whose members might beef up Neighborhood Watch programs, get involved in youth mentorship projects or offer to clean up fresh graffiti, within the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, Schutz didn't mince words about what would happen to the pre-teens and teenagers — who she supposes are gang members or kids intrigued with the idea of gang membership — when they're apprehended. "We will charge them to the fullest extent possible," she said. "We're onto them. We're coming. There's nothing about who they are or what they are that intimidates us."

Every instance of graffiti that's called in to the station is taken seriously, Herb and Schutz noted. Forest Grove Police send reports about each incident, including photos of the tags, to the Washington County Interagency Gang Enforcement Team, which compares the evidence to other cases in an attempt to narrow the list of possible culprits.

"Sooner or later, the bad guys lose," Schutz said.

Herb is concerned about the potential for escalating violence connected to the one-upsmanship that's part of the tagging game. Officers responded to a "likely gang-related fight" in the 3800 block of Pacific Avenue Sunday in which a male juvenile sustained "a small cut on his eye," according to Herb.

Police were unable to locate a suspect.

Mentoring opportunities

The chief, who took over the police department helm four months ago, was careful to point out that recent incidents of tagging "had nothing to do" with the Jan. 20 police shootout at the Tim and Lisa Cannon home on 37th Avenue near the high school or the resulting placement of a number of Forest Grove officers on administrative leave.

"We never let up on our patrols or police coverage across the city" during that two-week period, noted Herb.

Schutz said taggers are sometimes hard to catch because they commit their crimes at night, under cover of darkness — and because "kids know when (police) shifts change."

That's why help from the community is essential to keep graffiti from escalating, she said. Herb had a couple suggestions.

"We're not getting the calls about tagging that's in progress," he said. "That's the first thing: let us know."

Cleaning up graffiti "the minute it happens" is another critical step to discourage repeat tagging, Herb noted. The city has specific guidelines about who's responsible for cleanup and how soon it must take place (see sidebar on page A19).

For Schutz, there's another reason to nurture a police-and-community partnership: the youths' future.

"For these juveniles, this is their way of trying to claim certain areas as their own," she said. "They're just kids — I'd like to get through to them before they get farther down the wrong path."

Catching the errant youths could present opportunities for mentorship, such as police visits with parents or anti-gang talks at local schools, added Schutz.

With 20 patrol officers on three shifts covering a city of 21,500 residents, the police "can't possibly be everywhere," she said. "If you see or hear something suspicious, call. It's the officers' job to check it out."

Citizens can be "silent partners for our officers," according to Schutz. "We're going to reach out, but if there's no hand reaching back, that makes it tough."by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Donna VanDyke helps her grandsons, Jonathan Nemeyer and Benjamin Nemeyer, master the fine art of painting over a graffiti-marred fence.

Several days of mild weather in January brought a rash of tagging, something Herb and Schutz said will likely be an ongoing battle into the spring and summer months.

City Manager Michael Sykes agreed.

Although Forest Grove has a "long history" with tagging, he said, "the last month or so we've seen more than we've seen in a long time. Sykes added that he's spoken with officials at the county juvenile department about possibly putting confirmed taggers on pressure-washing duty.

"Let them help these people whose property they've violated by cleaning it up," he said.

'Hurts me every time'

Meanwhile, Dave and Aimee Nemeyer and their neighbor, Charles Heisler, are hoping the taggers get the message their paint-over efforts were meant to send: don't come back.

"It hurts me every time I have to see it," said Heisler, who lives just across Bonnie Lane from the Nemeyers and whose side fence got hit with graffiti last week after a two-year reprieve. "It's on the homeowner and the businesses to clean it up, but we've got better things to do."

Aimee was keeping her fingers crossed that the afternoon's toil would produce the desired results.

"It'll be a shock if (taggers) come down here and see what we've done," Aimee said, standing back to admire her work. "I think it looks good. We let the kids have the first layer and then we cleaned up behind them."

Paul Nemeyer, 10, looked askance at the taggers' mischief. "I think they should be locked up," he said. His buddy, Braden Ammann, also 10, thought the graffiti was a nuisance. "It's a pain in the neck," he said.

Still, the graffiti made for some good family discussions — and lessons about caring for property belonging to others.

"We talked about being respectful, and how you shouldn't mess around with what doesn't belong to you," Aimee said.

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