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San Bernardino cop fights graffiti, plays street violin

Sgt. Dwight Waldo has made it his mission to fight graffiti in San Bernardino.
Sgt. Dwight Waldo has made it his mission to fight graffiti in San Bernardino.
Jerry Gorin/KPCC

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Cops face a lot of stress. In San Bernardino, there's a policeman who's found a particularly creative way of dealing with the pressures of his profession.

San Bernardino's Sgt. Dwight Waldo has made it his mission to study the habits of graffiti taggers and to clean up the city's walls. He has been working on defeating graffiti for most of his 28 year career. He even wrote a book on the subject and is teaching other police officers how to effectively combat graffiti. Now, the city walls have never been cleaner.

Waldo also found that taggers become expert at scaling large buildings and finding their way onto private property.

"It doesn't take them long before they figure out that they can climb up a building and vandalize it or they can climb in a window and steal things. And we find that a lot of our burglars start as taggers because that's almost like their schooling for how to become a burglar," he said. Waldo's efforts, combined with a full-time cleanup crew, are cutting down on crime while beautifying the city.

Six years ago Waldo took up music and decided to play his violin in public. It's his own way of expressing himself artistically. He's known to many as "the violin man" when not in uniform.

"When I play, it's like a totally opposite thing. I don't have to be concerned about what's going on around me that much, what's happening, I can just simply focus on what I can create, what I can make happen," he said.

Waldo moves through the streets, playing his violin. Not unlike the taggers he hunts, he's always on the lookout for a new place to play.

"Life is about balance and you can't have a time when you're intense all the time. It doesn't make you good at what you do on duty, it doesn't make you good at what you do off duty."

Waldo suspects he'll retire soon. He plans to continue to find unusual places to play his violin.

L.A. Times reporter Sam Quinones brings us this profile of Sgt. Dwight Waldo.