Making His Mark on the Neighborhood

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police officer is a one-man unit battling graffiti

by gavin aronsen

for the past 14 years, officer david echevarria has been with the new york police department, where he investigates gang-related graffiti activity.

he's based in the 24th precinct in manhattan's upper west side, but using a computer database of citizen complaints and police write-ups, he monitors graffiti reports from all around the city to look for connections to crimes in his command.

"every week or so i do a complete canvass of my command," he said. "i know all the tags in my command and where they are before i clean up, and i actually have pictures and i categorize them."

echevarria, 42, previously spent about six years with the fire department as an emergency medical technician. he has lived in new york his entire life.

now he works with groups including the harlem community justice center and nyc community cleanup, collecting information for his investigations and coordinating graffiti cleanup efforts.

"i do the investigations on graffiti crimes and arrests after investigations are complete," he said. "if i have enough evidence, i will go out and arrest those individuals responsible for the graffiti."

his job is somewhat unique among police officers in that he is the only officer in his precinct doing what he does, whereas others work as part of teams.

but, echevarria said, "even though i work alone, i'm really not alone."

the precinct's special operations unit, under the command of lieutenant raymond camacho, and officers on patrol recognize that echevarria's "sort of been by [himself]," he said, and they regularly supply him with information like the location of graffiti tags.

echevarria singled out three people outside of the department he said are especially important to his efforts.

schools unite network ceo jill greenbaum runs a police-liaison communications network for youth safety that hands graffiti complaints over to the police.

borough manager anthony vargas, who works with the harlem community justice center and nyc community cleanup, organizes low-level offenders-people arrested for crimes like shoplifting-to assist in cleanup efforts.

peter arndtsen, manager of the columbus amsterdam business improvement district, gathers photos of locations that require graffiti removal.

as for echevarria himself?

"i'm a pretty private kind of guy," he said.

echevarria did say he is "married with four dogs"-mastiffs-and looks forward to dinner with the family every night.

he also said he loves to work out, which is good; because he often works alone, good physical fitness is a crucial part of the job description.

but, again, echevarria couldn't stress enough the importance of his working relationships.

"i really have them in my hearts, and that's really the important thing to me," he said. "without these people i wouldn't have been able to do my job."

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