Mall security barely escapes 'tagger' attack
A teen is charged with endangering two Kahala security staff in a graffiti arrest
Kahala Mall spends about $25,000 a year to paint over or clean up the work of graffiti vandals, but a "tagger" nearly exacted a much higher price on Friday night.
A 19-year-old man known to police as "a very active tagger" has been charged with criminal property damage and reckless endangerment for allegedly defacing a mall wall and then nearly running down two Kahala Mall security guards with his car after they surprised him in the act.
Though no one was injured, the case illustrates how a worsening graffiti problem in Honolulu can lead to potentially life-threatening situations, adding to the already significant financial cost to victims, police said yesterday.
"A lot of people look at graffiti as a victimless crime, but it's not," said Capt. Frank Fujii of the Honolulu Police Department.
"It may be fun tagging something, but it's not a fun thing for those whose property you have damaged."
Christopher Kaeck of Kalihi was spotted in the mall's upper-level parking lot defacing a wall along Waialae Avenue just after midnight Friday, police said.
A security video showed Kaeck getting into his car as two security guards approached, one on a bicycle and another in a motorized cart who stood between Kaeck and an exit to the street.
Kaeck sped directly between them, narrowly avoiding a collision.
"He missed them by a couple of inches. He almost ran them over," said Melvin De Costa, the mall's security manager.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Melvin De Costa, Kahala Mall's security director, talked yesterday about the apprehension of a suspect caught spraying graffiti at the mall. Security screens are in the background.
Kaeck was soon arrested by police after he struck a mailbox on nearby Makaiwa Street.
Kaeck's graffiti bore no gang or other overtones and, like many cases, seemed aimed at nothing more than displaying his "signature."
That signature was known to police, having appeared repeatedly at the mall and in other areas of Honolulu, according to police and mall security.
And there are plenty of others like him still out there -- typically young males seeking an outlet for expression and a thrill.
The number of reported graffiti cases in Honolulu stands at 639 for the year to date, with 113 arrests. In the late 1990s, police saw about that many cases in an entire year.
Police believe the increase might be due partly to the spread of graffiti into more affluent areas like Kahala, where community tolerance is lower and cases are more likely to be reported.
Cleanup on public walls and other facilities statewide is believed to cost Hawaii taxpayers about $1 million, according to police.
De Costa said Kahala Mall has been in a long race to keep up with graffiti vandals, mainly in the restrooms but also along its large, clean exterior wall faces. The mall quickly paints over or otherwise removes the graffiti, he said.
"It defeats the purpose to come here and deface the property, because it's gone within an hour," he said.
But the response is costly. The mall spends about $500 a week on cleanup. That does not include the costs of increased security put into place in recent years to combat the problem. Despite the extra security, De Costa said, just three vandals have been caught in the last six months.
The problem has worsened each year, and is now an "epidemic," he said.
"The cleanup cost is bad enough, but when a couple of my people could have gotten hurt because of this, that's a real problem," he said.
Kaeck faces up to 20 days in jail or a $1,000 fine on the criminal property damage charge, and up to a year in jail for reckless endangerment.
The number of incidents reported to Honolulu police has jumped in recent years.
| 2006 (to date)
Source: Honolulu Police Department