Thank Heaven for tag clean-up
The streets of East Auckland are cleaner thanks to Constable Darrin Heaven.
The Meadowlands community cop has apprehended seven teenagers since an outbreak of tagging started around the Somerville shops in April last year.
The youths are accused of tagging 500 square metres with paint, pens and etching, costing the community $20,000 to remove and repair.
"It was getting very quickly out of hand," Mr Heaven says.
"The investigation was a bit like pulling a thread out of a jumper - once you start pulling it just keeps on going and going and going."
His inquiries gathered speed towards the end of 2012 but are not finished.
"We've still got four or five guys that we will be visiting.
"Wander in and be dealt with fairly and promptly or lie there and wait for us to come and knock," he says.
Four of the suspects were under 17 at the time of the incident and are being dealt with by the youth aid system while the older teenagers are being put through the courts.
The youngest four are from Howick and the older ones from the wider East Auckland area.
One of the older teens is charged with intentional damage with more than 150 tags representing $15,000 of damage.
The maximum penalty for tagging is up to seven years' imprisonment but this is reserved for the most serious and prolific offenders who find themselves constantly before the courts.
Mr Heaven says the teenagers were caught "using a bit of old-fashioned policing" including tips from the public, cameras and "people telling us what they know".
He was also helped by graffiti specialist Sergeant Ian Pengelly and a joint police and Auckland Council database of tags.
"Just because you are not caught right at that time with the spray can in your hand doesn't mean that you are not going to get caught."
Mr Heaven says tagging can be a gateway offence.
He is "very confident" a tagger is responsible for some of the arson around Somerville last year but "not so confident" the same person is behind all of them.
"It starts off as tagging and expands into more serious offending, which is why we are really quite keen to catch up with the young guys while they are still young and before they've embarked on a life of more serious crime that's really hard to come back from."
Mr Heaven encourages parents who think their children might be involved to talk with him.
Signs a young person might be offending include tags on exercise books and spray paint or marker pens hidden in their room.