Salt Lake City’s valleywide metro gang unit reports a marked increase in graffiti cases, along with an increase in gang crimes.

Police officers have different theories on reasons for the increases.

Salt Lake City police Sgt. Rick Findlay believes it’s a combination of young gang members committing their first crimes—graffiti, larceny, and vehicle theft—and veteran gang members recently released from prison returning to the community and a criminal lifestyle.

Findlay says that graffiti can provide clues to crimes that gang members plan to commit. For this reason, he tries to see graffiti before it is cleaned from private businesses and homes.

But that must keep him pretty busy, because the metro gang unit’s statistics show a 21.9 percent increase in graffiti from 3,981 cases in 2002 to 4,854 cases last year. There has also been a 22.8 percent increase in other gang crime from 1,252 cases to 1,538 cases. And the beginning of 2004 doesn’t show a slow down in the number of gang crimes.

Lt. Andy Burton, who heads the metro unit, believes some of the increases reported may be due to more gang officers on the streets and more officers being able to recognize gang crimes, and thus report them as such.

Sgt. Jason Johnson, also with the metro unit, believes much of the gang activity is related to drugs.

Drive-by shootings have actually dropped 56.3 percent from 64 percent in 2002 to 28 percent in 2003. But Findlay doesn’t expect that trend to continue this year.