County officials said they have a “zero tolerance policy” regarding graffiti, but the latest Silver Spring regional area monthly report shows that residents have noticed an increase in graffiti throughout the area from neighborhoods to commercial hubs.
Sara Sheppard, a Silver Spring resident, said there have been new instances of graffiti in her neighborhood on Oakview. She is worried that these drawings or writings can potentially mean an unsafe neighborhood.
“I think some of it is just kids, but I also think there has been some tagging going on. ... This isn’t a very stable neighborhood anyway,” Sheppard said.
Law enforcement officials, however, say otherwise.
According to Lt. Kevin Sullivan of the Montgomery County Police Department, the Criminal Street Gang Unit has not seen an increase in gang graffiti reporting.
“They do, however, receive the reports and follow up on gang-related graffiti when the events are reported,” Sullivan wrote in an email to The Gazette.
Sullivan said there is a difference between gang graffiti and tagging graffiti. Gang graffiti tends to be more simplistic, with just the gang name or symbol and possibly the nickname of the person who did the graffiti, while tagging graffiti is typically more “artistic” in nature and is not easily read or deciphered.
Sheppard and other residents saw graffiti drawings on recently installed telephone poles that were difficult to decipher and the word “zap” on a stop sign.
Sullivan added that the gang graffiti’s purpose is usually to either display the presence of the gang in a particular area or simply demonstrates the individual’s connection with the gang, and it is motivated by the presence of an empty spot on a fence or wall that the “artist” sees as a blank canvas.
County officials also said certain areas such as Langley Park and Takoma Park have had gang graffiti in the past.
“We have young people referred to us ... either doing some graffiti or may have gotten caught doing some tagging [and] we tend to work with them,” said Luis Cardona, coordinator at the Montgomery County Gang Prevention Initiative.
According to Cardona, the Montgomery County Police Department takes a look at the drawings to see if it is gang related.
Cardona said he hasn’t seen much graffiti because either the law enforcement “cracks down” on it or the community has been more vigilant.
“What I still do hear, typically, school security might see a student in school and might see some kind of graffiti or some kind of tagging on a notebook, and they deal with it accordingly to whatever the school protocol is,” Cardona said.
Silver Spring Urban District officials said it hasn’t been much of a problem in the Silver Spring central business district.
“During cold temperatures it is difficult for us to remove it. ... We use power wash and we often use chemicals depending on the surface. ... But if it is cold we can’t do a whole lot,” said Yvette Freeman, chief of operations of the Silver Spring Urban District.
Freeman said property owners are responsible for removing the graffiti, but the urban district helps to clean up any form of graffiti as long as the property owner signs a waiver.
“To make sure we are not liable for any damage,” Freeman said.
The Montgomery County Department of Transportation also works in partnership with a nonprofit called GRAB, which stands for GRaffiti ABatement, and tries to eliminate graffiti vandalism through eradication, education and enforcement strategies.
According to the county’s website, in the fiscal year 2010, GRAB, along with the Montgomery County Department of Corrections, cleaned up 125 sites across the county, including signal boxes, retaining walls, roads, bridge underpasses, pedestrian tunnels and fences. They removed or painted over 32,000 square feet. GRAB responds to graffiti reports countywide and coordinates cleanup.
Law enforcement asks residents to call GRAB’s hotline at 301-607-4722 if graffiti or tagging is seen throughout the county.
County officials said cleaning of any graffiti or tagging will take place when temperatures are higher.