After repeated ‘tagging,’ Perry Hall lawmakers seek tougher laws

… Graffiti scrawled on several Perry Hall businesses recently …

By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

5:34 PM EST, January 29, 2011

A small shopping center on busy Belair Road in Perry Hall is popular among one crowd for all the wrong reasons.

The building’s white exterior has made it a frequent target for graffiti artists or “taggers.” It’s been marked up about five times in 12 years, including earlier this month when it was one of three local businesses defaced with black spray paint on the same night.

Store owners said memories of a previous incident over the summer when the two-level building was spray-painted red hadn’t quite faded before Jan. 7 when Fino Jewelers about a block away and Friendship Enterprises on Joppa Road were also targeted.

“It was hard to really make out if it meant anything or said anything,” said Karen Evans, manager of A Total Difference Hair and Nail Salon at the center, which also houses offices and Sunscape Tanning Studio. “There was something on the side of the building that had an ‘x’ or a cross.”

A little bit of graffiti gets a lot of attention in a place like Baltimore County, where fewer than 70 complaints have been lodged since 2008. With reports on the rise from fed-up business owners and community activists — who suspect that teenage vandals are the spray-can-wielding culprits — council members Cathy Bevins and David Marks are seeking to increase the fine from $500 to $1,000.

Baltimore County police said they are investigating the incidents and working with businesses and community associations to address the problem. County code requires owners to promptly remove graffiti or face penalties up to $1,000.

Graffiti symbols, names and initials have popped up around Perry Hall more and more in recent months — a supermarket loading dock, a sign at a strip mall entrance, the back wall of a closed restaurant.

Steeper penalties will help, said Dennis Robinson, president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association.

“I would like to think that someone is going to think twice about this kind of activity if they know the penalty is increasing,” he said, adding that he’d like to see rewards issued. “It sends a strong message throughout Baltimore County that this type of activity will not be tolerated in our community. Kids who have too much time on their hands should be on the lookout.”

More late-night patrols would be welcome, but the problems mostly reflect societal norms, said Maria Marcantoni, owner of Sunscape Tanning Studio.

“It’s more of a parenting issue and a lack of moral and ethics in today’s society than it is anything else,” she said. “I was raised to fear major repercussions from our families, more so than the authorities.”

Council members are also looking into other counties’ efforts to stop the problem and working with school resource officers to get leads. Bevins and Marks’ bill will be introduced at the council’s Feb. 7 meeting.

Approximately 13 complaints about graffiti in Marks’ district, which includes Perry Hall and Towson, have been lodged in the last few years. Although police don’t think the graffiti is gang-related, it’s still disturbing, the councilman said.

“We don’t want this sending the message that we have urban problems and urban blight,” he said. “If you let something go unresolved, then it sends the message that it’s going to lead to other problems.”

The $500 fine is too low, said Bevins, whose district also includes parts of Perry Hall.

“People do not take into account what it costs to replace those signs,” she said.

Franco Marcantoni, who owns the Belair Road shopping center, said his problems with graffiti started about five years ago. Now, he’s not wasting any more time. He’s getting an estimate on surveillance cameras next week.

“I don’t want to sleep there every night,” he said. “I don’t want spray-painting to escalate to broken windows and doors.”

Anyone with information about the graffiti incidents should contact Baltimore County police at 410-307-2020 or the White Marsh precinct at 410-887-5000.

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun


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