When the player commits a crime in a city, the wanted scale will start to increase, usually by one star. When one star is lit up, it indicates that the player is wanted by law enforcement. As the the player commits more crimes the level will increase more, attracting more powerful types of law enforcement in the process (see Wanted Level in GTA III Era for more information).
Decreasing the Wanted Level
The player can decrease their wanted level in many ways. The player can pick up police bribes around the city, which only decreases their level by one star.. Also if the player is driving a car, they can respray their car at a Pay 'n' Spray that will eliminate all the stars. However, after respraying a vehicle at a repair shop, the stars will start to blink, meaning the police have lost contact with the player. If the player preforms a drive-by or commits a crime, the stars will reappear. Sometimes the player can change the protagonists clothes that will sometimes loose the wanted level.