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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 28, 2006

Graffiti vandals should get a strong message

Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto should be commended for wanting to take a tough stand on the graffiti problem. But that doesn't have to mean jail time.

Sakamoto's case involved Webster Agudong, a bakery worker who pleaded guilty earlier this year to two counts of second-degree criminal property damage. Agudong, 19, painted graffiti on signs along the H-1 Freeway near Waikele and on Farrington Highway near Waipahu High School.

At his sentencing hearing this week, Agudong received five years of probation and four weekends in jail. In addition, Agudong must pay more than $5,000 in restitution and perform 200 hours of community service.

While it makes sense that Agudong be ordered to pay restitution for his vandalism, and it's fitting to see a solid sentence of community service the teenager will be working with community groups cleaning up other people's graffiti jail time for this offense seems over and beyond what's needed to convey a strong anti-graffiti message.

Indeed, graffiti is a crime of vandalism. That's no small matter. That's why the law should be regularly reviewed to ensure community service penalties and fines are tough. If offenders can't afford to pay, their community service hours should be extended.

In many cities, fines and community service methods have proved effective. Immediate cleanup programs also help remove the gratification taggers get by seeing their work illegally displayed in public places.

Those who've taken an interest in the issue, like City Councilman Charles Djou, believe that a harsh law-and-order stance only goes so far. That's why the City Council has pursued such ideas as specified graffiti walls to allow taggers an outlet for expression.

Fighting graffiti requires creative solutions.

Let's be tough on the egregious offenders, and be sure fines and community service are enforced and firm enough to get that message across.