"I just consider it a national virus," said William Wheel, looking out the window of his car.

Across the street, were white storage containers owned by Thompson Building Materials, surrounded by barbed wire fencing. But there weren't just white, not any more: Graffiti had been scrawled over the outside of most of them, ranging from small tags done with markers to huge spray-painted names taller than a man.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Service Specialist Pam Balsitis walked around the containers, taking pictures of the markings with a digital camera and taking notes on a clipboard.

"It costs about $500 a piece [to clean up the graffiti], with the decals," said Wheel, a property manager for the company. He estimates about half of the 65 storage containers were tagged, and said that the company's insurance company won't pay for the clean-up. "We're a company that keeps their equipment in top style. ... Mr. Thompson was quite irate."

The city of Hesperia operates an anti-graffiti team of two trucks, each with four workers on board.

"Right now the calls are down," said Scott Smith, crew supervisor for the city's graffiti team. "It can be anywhere from I would say 20 a day to more than that."

When called in, the team's goal is to paint over or clean up the graffiti within 24 hours. The team uses a sandblaster and just purchased a steam cleaner to remove graffiti more easily.

"We will clean up private property with a signed right-of-entry from the property owner," said city spokeswoman Kim Summers. "Calls from January to May was over 6,000."

In addition to the clean up, the graffiti hotline is the first step in getting law enforcement involved.

"Bi-weekly we meet with the [sheriff's department's gang enforcement] team, the school district and the park district," Smith said. "Code enforcement's involved in it. It seems to be working: Like I said, calls are down right now."

Although some of the tagging is done by dangerous gangs -- Hesperia grandmother Seutatia Tausili was killed in August 2007 when she and her grandsons confronted taggers marking up trash cans and mailboxes in her yard -- it's not always the calling card of gang members.

"A lot of crew we have are tagging crews, not gangs, at least not in this city," said San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Roxanne Walker. "We catch taggers fairly often, especially if people call in while they're in the act of tagging. We've gotten there in time to catch them while they're tagging."

And even when they don't catch them in the act, the taggers are quite literally signing their names to crimes, and coordination between different agencies allows them to catch many of them eventually.

"Because the kids are always going to be carrying that stuff with them, whether it's their [stickers with graffiti written on them ahead of time], their markers or their spray paint, whatever their choice of graffiti tool might be, they'll be carrying it with them," said Mike Graham, the chief of the Hesperia Unified School District's police department. "Sooner or later, we do catch them. Then we compile all that information."

Smith recommends property owners file a police report in addition to calling the hotline.

"That way, when they catch the tagger, they can bill them for it," he said.

"A few weeks ago, we caught a young man that had been tagging all the way down into Victorville," said Graham. "He photographed everything and wrote it up in his report and sent it on to Victorville, for them to write it up and file it in their report. That's how the cities get compensated, and even [private] citizens."

"Right now, the calls are down," said Smith. "I think it's because of enforcement."

"I don't know how they're ever going to stop it," said Wheel, squinting at the defaced containers theoretically safe behind barbed wire.

"Sooner or later, we end up catching them," said Graham. "Sometimes, it takes longer than others. Some of these kids are just a little craftier. But sooner or later, they're going to step in it."

To report graffiti, call the city's graffiti hotline at 947-1600, and leave an address and description of the graffiti.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.