NORTH SALT LAKE, Utah - A 20-year-old man is behind bars after police say he defaced several North Salt Lake businesses and restaurants with graffiti.
Police from Davis to Salt Lake County have been dealing with a graffiti problem. In two nights this year, North Salt Lake police said they found as much graffiti as they did in all of last year.
According to Sgt. Mitch Gwilliam of the North Salt Lake Police Dept., they were able to tie several incidents in February and March to Matthew Todakonzie because of certain symbols he'd paint; an “NM” kept showing up all over town. Police believe it stands for New Mexico.
"It was a matter of putting a whole bunch of what would seem random pieces of puzzle together, fell together quite nicely in the end," said Gwilliam.
Authorities said a neighborhood watch group helped them track Todakonzie down by calling anytime they noticed similar images.
Authorities were eventually able to connect images from the street to those found on Todakonzie's social media profiles. After he was arrested, police said Todakonzie didn't think he was doing anything wrong.
"For him it's art. He believes that he was portraying his version of art and other people's property is his medium," said Gwilliam.
The damage done to the properties will cost about $6,000 to clean up.
"The one up there on the building cost us $800 to have them come sandblast it off and repaint," said Blair Thurston, co-owner of Spreader Specialist, a trucking company in town that has been vandalized in the past. "Go art somewhere else because these trucks got to go up and down the road, and we got to clean it up so the public isn't looking at it. We look terrible when we're doing our job."
Until now, North Salt Lake had seen graffiti incidents decreasing, while the issue is on the rise in Salt Lake City, going up every year since 2002 by about 10 to 20 percent, according to city officials.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank dedicated this month's Chief Message to graffiti, touching on the costly cleanup burden they face with every case.
"Graffiti's annual budget is about $400,000," said Brent Ahlander, a graffiti removal specialist for the city.
According to the chief, that is not the only price officials pay, though.
"So, $400,000 goes strictly to the cleanup, and that does not include the cost of police officers responding, especially as we have repeated sort of offenses taking place," said Burbank.
Todakonzie is facing charges for several counts of criminal mischief, as well as trespassing. Police said there could be more charges coming, as other graffiti cases could also be tied to him.