WEST VALLEY CITY, UTAH (ABC4 UTAH) It's one of the biggest graffiti cases ever to be prosecuted in Utah. There are 11 defendants today, and there could be 11 more in the near future. And a couple of West Valley City Police detectives are behind the prosecutions.
In this week's ABC4 Behind the Badge police profile - we learn more about the case and the officers investigating it.
"Somebody goes out in the middle of the night and they paint something and you have no idea who that person is. And to be able to stand in court and say 'yes' - we've identified that person and have them plead guilty for that crime - when you knew absolutely nothing when you went in. It is very satisfying. It really is." Detective Mike Lynes loves solving cases. And when it comes to artistic graffiti crimes in West Valley City - Detective Lynes and his partner Detective Scott Arnold are local experts.
In fact, if you are the person behind the artistic graffiti - they probably know who you are.
"Once they take a picture and they send it to anybody - there are ways you can reach out in the air and grab that kind of stuff. They send it to a buddy - he sends it to someone else. That person posts it on social media cause they think it's cool. Then you just got to know how to look at that road map and track back."
But Lynes says figuring that out took a lot of time. "I had to learn a lot. I really didn't know about the artistic side of graffiti. I knew about gang graffiti, but nothing. So, it's been. There really is no training we could go to for this." So, the West Valley City Police detectives became experts during their off hours. "A lot of it was sitting at home learning, reading, putting the cases together - doing everything that you can to make this case come to fruition down the road." All that learning helped them go from students to teachers in the artistic graffiti world. "Now we are the guys teaching other investigators how to investigate this. We teach our in house academy." "We have gone out of state. We are the ones teaching people - this is how you investigate these guys."
While this case focuses on train car graffiti - as they found suspects who spray painted trains - they connected them to art around town. "This was something that took two years, almost to the day, to put together. I think we did 14 search warrants in total."
That two year investigation has lead to charges against 11 suspects and in the coming months another dozen or so could be facing charges as well.
Some may wonder why police focus on train cars in Salt Lake City. You can learn more about that by reading below or by watching the Web Extra Video attached to this story.
Sgt. Mike Lynes describes why graffiti artists target train cars, why it costs train companies thousands to clean up the graffiti and how the people he was trying to bust - took aim him in some of their work.
"To stay in this graffiti culture and to be popular in it you still have to go out and commit acts graffiti and acts of vandalism. If you don't do that anymore then a lot of times people will say this guy sold out he's not part of the crew anymore."
"If someone paints a train car in Salt Lake City, Utah at one of our yards. That freight train may end up in New York City. That train may end up in Canada. Along the way other people are taking pictures of that posting to social media - tagging him in it. And saying I spotted you in Kansas City. I spotted you in Wichita. I spotted you in Oklahoma. You were up in New York."
"If they have to take a train car off the line to re-paint the whole train car. It gets sent back to the mid-west to a facility. They lose the revenue from not being able to use the train car. The numbers on the train car are used to identify what is in the train car - whether it is haz-mat or not. and these guys will come paint over that."
"These guys they've been fairly angry at the charges - so my name tends to pop up on walls. There's one down on I-15, a large mural of my last name. We get it cleaned up right away. But, you know for us it's if we are making you that upset we are winning the war - we are winning the battle. "