Los Altos Police are searching for four suspects in the early-morning vandalism that targeted downtown properties June 20. Vandals etched graffiti into the windows of approximately 70 businesses along Main Street in a spree that police approximate began at 2 a.m. and lasted an estimated 45 minutes.
Surveillance video from merchants captured two males and two females carving into the glass, leaving the tags "CLOPS NLT" on the majority of doors and windows, "TWON" and three swastikas scratched on glass at Aldo Los Altos, 388 Main St., and Sheldon of Los Altos Photography, next door.
Police Chief Tuck Younis said the department received its first report of the vandalism from Main Street Cafe & Books when workers arrived Saturday morning.
"From there, it just snowballed," he said.
Davino Florist sales clerk Merlyn Pedroza said employees immediately noticed the graffiti on the windows upon arriving for work.
"We immediately checked our cameras to see if we had anything on it," she said.
The grainy 40-second clip reveals two men in dark clothing and one woman in a white shirt and shorts, carving graffiti into the florist's glass for approximately 10-15 seconds.
"They're not spending that much time at each store," Younis said.
Although police retrieved no usable prints and are unable to identify the implements used to etch the glass, Younis said they do know they are searching for two white females, one white male and one male of unknown ethnicity – all in their late teens or early 20s. Police have ruled out gang activity and hate crimes as motives behind the vandalism, which occurred on the 100, 200 and 300 blocks on both sides of Main Street, he said.
"In our opinion, they are not hate-related," Younis said. "It's not any less offensive – I just don't think it's organized hate."
Because the tagging monikers are similar to graffiti discovered in San Jose's Willow Glen area several months ago, Younis said his department is working with the San Jose Police Department, which maintains a database of graffiti markers found in Santa Clara County.
Younis and San Jose's metro-graffiti unit officer Erik Hove addressed local merchants and business principals on the investigation June 25.
As to the meaning of the tag "CLOPS NLT," Hove said "NLT" stands for "Not Licking Toilets," a tagging crew from San Jose, and "CLOPS" is the name of one of those taggers.
"He's caused the most damage," Hove said. "He's been on our radar."
Hove said NLT members have always been from San Jose, but the young women who accompanied them June 20 may be local – all looking for what Hove described as a "blank canvas."
"This is not a gang," he said. "They're just out to damage things."
Pedroza said the culprits left several stickers on signs, emblazoned with "IZ â€¦ RIP."
Michael Martin, aka "Iz the Wiz," was a legendary graffiti artist from New York who suffered from kidney problems many believed were caused by the spray paint he used for graffiti. Martin died June 19. Although police would not speculate that the stickers refer to Martin, Pedroza said the taggers might have been commemorating Iz.
Hove said he is confident at least one of the suspect will be identified this week, and Younis said he wants to showcase the crime with the district attorney and pursue maximum punishment for the suspects.
Any damage exceeding $400 is a felony – the perpetrators are looking at 100 felony counts if apprehended, Hove said. Younis asked merchants who fix their windows to make copies of work receipts for Agent Mark Laranjor, the case investigator for the department.
Younis requested that merchants and their employees view the videos, uploaded on the police and Town Crier Web sites. Local TV stations are also airing the video, Younis said.
In the meantime, Younis told merchants to call police if they witness suspicious activity and encouraged the business community to build relationships and look out for one another.
"Quite frankly, we can only do so much," Younis said. "There is very little you can do to prevent these (crimes)."
Anyone with information is asked to notify the Los Altos Police Department at 947-2770.