West Valley City police detectives are cracking down on a recent graffiti trend they’ve seen in their city: the “Slap Game.”
Taggers in the area are using postal service mailing labels and other stickers to draw graffiti, then stick it on buildings or poles throughout the city.
Detective Mike Lynes said Thursday that the goal with the “slap game” is to get a tagger’s name or crew name throughout the community.
“It’s a whole subculture,” Lynes said. “You want to get your name out. It’s about getting your name out and getting recognition within that community.”
But Lynes said the taggers who are using the stickers for graffiti are not the same people who spray-paint street gang names on walls.
“Gang graffiti is sloppy,” Lynes said. “You get out there and paint your name as quick as you can. Tagger-style is more about the quality of the work. They take time and pride in what they do.”
However, taking the time to create more artful work also puts taggers at risk greater risk of being seen by police — and even if it’s art, it’s still illegal.
Enter the “slap game,” also known as “slap tag.”
Instead of spending the time to paint on a wall or structure, taggers will draw their art on stickers and shipping labels at their house.
“Then they can go down to the bus stop and slap them up real quick,” Lynes said. “It just takes a second to peel the label, and boom, put it up. It’s just another way to get their moniker, their graffiti name out there.”
Slap tag is nothing new. Lynes said larger cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, have seen sticker graffiti for the last 30 years. But Lynes said Utah is a little behind the times, and it’s showing up now in West Valley City.
Lynes said taggers, who usually are between 14 and 26 years old, will use any sticker that is a “blank canvas,” such as name tag stickers. But a popular method is to take stacks of mailing labels from local postal services. Using these stickers for graffiti is technically a federal crime, Lynes said, but it’s unlikely that a tagger would be prosecuted in federal court.
However, Lynes said police in West Valley City are working to stop the slap game there. Two detectives are now assigned to investigate graffiti, he said, and taggers will face charges in state court if they are caught. Beyond charges relating to the graffiti, Lynes said that if taggers use post office labels, they can also be prosecuted for theft, since the labels are not being used for their intended purpose.
While tagging crews can technically be considered a gang — since they work as a named group and commit vandalism crimes — Lynes said they aren’t generally violent.
“The majority [of their rivalries] is through art,” Lynes said. “There have been occasions where these guys will fist-fight with each other. But mostly, it’s art. ... Talking trash on walls.”