By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — At first glance, it seems harmless enough — a few swirls of paint on the back of a building, barely noticeable to passersby.
This bit of graffiti is nuisance, but is it worth reporting to police?
Yes, said Deputy Chief Donald Thompson. Examining small, isolated bits of graffiti can help police solve larger vandalism trends, he said. It can also keep graffiti from spreading from the backs of buildings to prominent locations, eventually taking over a neighborhood, he said.
“When you report it and you let us know what’s going on, we can see if we can match it up with other incidents of tagging or with people who are suspected of doing tagging,” Thompson said.
Police said they were happy when two relatively small incidents of graffiti were reported to them this week.
The reports came to police on Wednesday morning, when workers at the Best Western Hotel on Lowell Avenue told police that someone spray painted the letters “ARIO” in black and white on the rear of the building. Thompson said the tagging is believed to have happened sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, when it was discovered.
Another incident was reported to police by a city employee who discovered blue paint on a city-owned water tank on Gale Hill. The tank is on Longview Street, between Concord Street and Kenoza Avenue.
“There is no telling how long it was there,” Thompson said of the markings on the tank.
Thompson said taggers are looking for attention — but they are likely to move on if the graffiti is removed or covered, rather than ignored.
“If you clean it up or paint over it, it discourages more tagging,” he said.
Police said the sooner tagging is reported and photos are taken as part of a police investigation, the sooner it can be removed so that it does not encourage blight to creep into neighborhoods. The city has been encouraging downtown property owners to clean up tagging as well, to discourage repeat instances.
They are investigating this week’s reports.
John D’Aoust, manager of the city’s water treatment plant, said the water tank is concrete and is at ground level and that is has been the target of tagging and other forms of vandalism in the past. D’Aoust said this latest incident of tagging was discovered as part of a routine tank inspection and appeared to be some letters or initials.
“Someone cut the barbed wire on the chain link fence that is around the perimeter of the tank, and it looks like they got in by climbing over the fence,” he said.
The tank has been tagged in the past, D’Aoust said, and city workers usually remove it with a pressure washer. The fence surrounding the tank has been vandalized in the past as well, he said.
“When we find it, we fix it,” D’Aoust said. “It’s a constant maintenance thing we have to keep up with. There isn’t a lot of traffic at this site so it’s a place of opportunity (for vandals).’’
City Councilor Robert Scatamacchia said the city receives help in removing graffiti on public property from the Essex Sheriff’s Department, which regularly provides a graffiti removal crew. He agreed it’s important to report tagging to police before it is removed — but that removing or covering it quickly is a must.
“Tagging is contagious,” Scatamacchia said.