Listen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:
“Wait a second, there was an urban legend that there was a judge that was painting out graffiti,” Totten said.
Judge Robert Totten’s not a stranger to someone calling him an urban legend. Every night, he walks the streets of West Adams with his three big great danes and cleans off the graffiti in his neighborhood.
Totten isn’t hired to do this. He does it purely to make it look better and safer for his family and neighbors. He summed up his beliefs by quoting former LAPD Police Chief Bill Bratton.
“It’s a broken window. If you allow the broken windows to remain, and the graffiti to remain up, then it attracts more,” Totten said.
He doesn’t need much. Only a couple of wash cloths, paint thinner and spray paint. If the graffiti is on a gray or white surface, he’ll just spray paint over it. Otherwise, he’ll scrub until it’s gone.
“So this will just take me two seconds and he’s gone,” Totten said.
Totten says the graffiti is gang related and he has caught people in the act.
“I remember stepping over and saying come on guys enough’s enough, and they go, white boy you’re next,” Totten said.
These types of vandals doing the graffiti end up in his courtroom. During the day, he is a commissioner for juvenile, ruling on cases like murder, robbery and vandalism.
One tagger I spoke with that wishes to not be identified says that him tagging an area illustrates his loyalty to his gang, their brotherhood and their territory.
There are some nights when Totten will clean an area, and the next day, there’s graffiti again. But, that doesn’t bother him. He just goes back and cleans it off again.
“I get satisfaction knowing they’re not getting anything out of it, except putting themselves at risk,” Totten said.
Totten has tried to bring the issue to police, but says police have to weigh what’s more important at the time: catching taggers or solving robberies and murders?
In 1990, LAPD created PACE, Police Assisted Community Enhancement Program. The program is designed to battle graffiti through different city agencies. When graffiti is seen, LAPD fills out a form and forwards it to the proper city agency to alleviate the problem. LAPD was unavailable for comment.
Totten hopes giving back to his community will slowly remove all the bad tensions in the area.
“Positive energy’s going to win out,” Totten said.
Until authorities can do more, Totten says he doesn’t mind people thinking he’s an urban legend.