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Tagging Up Denver

The city’s aerosol junkies are in the spotlight.

She heads down the line of freights, writing tags with a silver marker as she goes along. She estimates that she's painted more than 1,000 pieces on trains that travel around North America like a never-ending art exhibit.

"Trains are just seen more," she says. "I mean, like, Denver, we see what we see here, but this is going to be seen all over."


Members of TKO are ready to write.
Jim J. Narcy
Members of TKO are ready to write.
ERA is "getting up" in Denver's graffiti world.
Jim J. Narcy
ERA is "getting up" in Denver's graffiti world.

That looks like trouble," says graffiti-sting volunteer Karmen Hanson.

Gale Lindley, who's maneuvering the white PT Cruiser around their assigned precinct of Villa Park, agrees. "Umm-hmm," she says slowly, lifting her police radio to her mouth.

"Are you going to call?" Hanson asks.

"Hello, Lowell," Lindley says, giving the code name for the police sting car. "I'm looking for any car close to the Sixth Avenue frontage road, eastbound at about Osceola. We've got two males, heavyset."

"It looks like they had stuff in their pockets," Hanson interjects, craning her neck to look through the back window.

Lindley repeats, "It looks like they have stuff in their pockets. White T-shirts. Hats askew. There's two of them, both Hispanic, and they've got saggy pants with stuff in their pockets." She flips the car around and heads down a side street to take another look at the suspects.

"We may actually get one this time," Hanson says in an affable tone. A boardmember of the Berkeley Regis United Neighbors group, Hanson also volunteers at the District 1 cop shop. "I did the last sting," she says. "April 13. Friday the 13th. We were bored out of our gourds!"

They had great spots, too, she notes. Right along the viaduct, all that nice, untouched wall — and then nothing. But it was kind of cold out, and the officers concluded the operation at barely 10 o'clock.

"We were like, 'This is stupid,'" she says. "We didn't see anything even remotely juicy. And we had the train yards right there, and so we had all these great huge murals going by and not a soul painting them."

But tonight, she hopes, will be different. Behind the wheel, Lindley is a reserve officer for the Denver Police Department, one of eight volunteers in what she calls "the forgotten unit," since many district commanders don't even know such an outfit exists. But she receives all the same training as a regular officer, Lindley points out. She says she continues because she believes it's her duty to take responsibility for the safety of her neighborhood.

Lindley pulls the PT Cruiser to a stop between two brick pillars that have both been defaced with large, black EMS scrawls. As the two suspects walk past, Lindley exits the car and approaches them.

"Have you guys seen a little white dog?"

The two young men, maybe in their late teens, survey the area around them. It's possible that they could be out causing trouble. Or they could just be heading home. It's only 10:15 p.m.

"No," one of them says. "No, we haven't. Sorry."

They turn to continue walking and Lindley cocks her head and surveys their pants for any suspicious bulges.

"Good ploy," Hanson compliments her partner as she climbs back in the PT Cruiser.

Lindley gets back on the walkie talkie and updates their position to Lowell. About ten minutes pass as the pair canvass the surrounding blocks; then they spot the blue-and-red police lights flashing near the top of the hill.

"Ooh," Hanson says. "Is it them?"

They get nearer and see two parked patrol cars surrounding the youths, who are sitting on the curb. "Yup," Lindley hoots. "Sorry, buddies."

"I hope we get one so bad," says Hanson. "If I can make my little dent in the world, I'll be so happy."

(As it turned out, neither of the boys had any graffiti materials in their possession, and they were released.)

Both women have property that's been tagged. For Hanson, it's mostly her fence and dumpster that get hit on a regular basis. But she feels the worst for the small businesses that seem to constantly get slammed with graffiti. Lindley was in the same position. She owns the Denver Bookbinding Company at West 31st Avenue and Tejon Street, which was a never-ending target for tagging because of the 15,000-square-foot building's eastern-facing wall.

"So about seven years ago, I hired a tagger artist to paint a mural of a bunch of books on the front of the building," she explains. "I told him what I wanted, and I paid him, and I liked it so much I had him do another one in the back." Since then, she says, "if we've been hit six times in the past seven years, I would be surprised. I think that taggers respect the building now." Last year she "went underground" to commission another graffiti writer to paint the business's name in bubble letters on the facade and is considering another large mural later this year. "I just think it would be cool. Personally, I like that kind of art."

Hanson agrees. She loves looking at the complex and energetic murals and pieces she spots around town: "I don't have any respect for a tagger, but I do have respect for a mural artist."

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