By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — Police have stepped up patrols near the center of the city following a “huge spike” in graffiti that required visits on three days this month from a regional cleanup crew from the Essex County Sheriff’s office.
The graffiti, which first appeared late last month in the Lowell Street area, was spray-painted by vandals on street signs, buildings and bridges, according to Methuen police Sgt. James Gunter.
By mid August, Gunter said, a “huge spike” in graffiti was being reported to police.
“It’s just a group of kids that get together and decide they want to spray-paint and put up their symbols,” said Gunter yesterday. “We have some suspects we’re watching. The investigation is ongoing.”
Gunter said police do not believe the tagging is gang-related. Gunter said the department has increased patrols in the city’s Central District.
“We have zero tolerance,” said Gunter. “If we catch anybody doing it, they will be arrested and prosecuted.”
Methuen police have made no arrests related to the recent tagging. But on July 28, three men were arrested for leaving graffiti at 478 Lowell St. in the West End.
A fourth man received a court summons.
Much of the tagging was removed by Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousin’s graffiti removal team, which used specialized equipment to blast away graffiti in the city on Aug. 9, 12 and 13.
“We don’t have the equipment of the manpower to do it,” said Gunter. “They have a truck that’s specially made for it.”
Quick cleanup responses to graffiti are part of the “broken windows” theory of policing described in a recent post on the Methuen Police Department blog, methuenpoliceblotter.blogspot.com.
“This theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime,” reads the post.
“Many times policing is not all about catching the bad guy, it’s about positive relationships with residents and about keeping our neighborhoods clean and safe as to not breed disorder.”
One proponent of the “broken windows” theory is West District City Council candidate Ken Willette Jr.
Willette said the city should purchase its own graffiti removal equipment and pursue corporate sponsors to defray the cost.
Willette also said Methuen should establish a “rapid response” hotline for residents to report graffiti.
“We should have a local process for removing graffiti,” said Willette. “I think we need to have a discussion about purchasing our own equipment.”