Surge in racist graffiti roils residents, police

Group in River Hill to address vandalism

September 10, 2006|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,sun reporter

Capt. Kevin A. Burnett, commander of the Police Department's Southern District, says that neighborhood watches have "value," but that they tend to "fade in and fade out" in response to high-visibility crimes.

In the upscale Columbia village of River Hill, the time has come to "fade in."

After vandals escaped detection while spray-painting a series of anti-Semitic and racist graffiti in Clarksville one night last month, River Hill residents will hold their first neighborhood watch meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the village's Meeting Room, 6330 Trotter Road.

"Residents who are concerned about the most recent events should come to the meeting and help us get this program running," said Susan M. Smith, the village manager.

Police are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the 25 incidents that they believe occurred overnight Aug. 15, mostly in the River Hill area.

They are investigating possible links to two cases in Ellicott City last month and an additional set of spray-painted references to Japanese animation around several schools in July.

"There's nothing I'd like more than be able to announce an arrest in these cases," acting Police Chief William J. McMahon said. "I think it would really bring comfort to the folks who had to wake up to this."

On the night of Aug. 23, police said, vandals spray-painted a white Star of David and derogatory comments about Jews and women on the hockey field at Glenelg Country School in the 12700 block of Folly Quarter Road. Then they traveled one block and wrote offensive words and phrases about blacks on a mailbox and tree.

"I tend to believe that it's unlikely that we have two different groups working in that close of proximity to one another," Burnett said, adding that he was "amazed" that the large reward has not resulted in a witness coming forward.

"We've had people give up their relatives for less money," he said. "That would lead me to believe that this is a close-knit group."

The targets appear to be random, and many of the victims are white, Burnett said. The acts are so spread out that the perpetrators likely drove from spot to spot and are in their late teens, he said.

At Glenelg Country School, the vandals spray-painted the name of a River Hill High School student, his grade in school and then `RHHS' for the school. Burnett said the student has been interviewed by police and is not a suspect. He did not know the student's religious or ethnic background.

In July, two juveniles were caught on surveillance tape at River Hill High spray-painting the words "Gekko State" from Japanese anime, slang for animation. Burnett said that two boys, ages 16 and 17, were charged.

Police believe the same boys might have hit Cradlerock School, Stevens Forest Elementary and a residence in the 10600 block of Quarterstaff Road in Columbia with gekko-related graffiti that month. The vandals also painted a Star of David at the house whose residents are Jewish, Burnett said.

McMahon said that vandalism cases are difficult to solve. The criminals usually operate at night and leave behind little physical evidence.

Police also have not been able to pick up on a pattern in these cases, which makes surveillance at the next likely target impossible.

McMahon said crime lab technicians have analyzed the graffiti, and investigators are checking with stores to see whether any have recently sold large quantities of spray paint to teenagers.

"All together, these cases involve an unbelievable amount of spray paint," Burnett said. "We're dealing with people with resources, too much time and no direction."

Anyone with information is asked to call Howard County police at 410-313-3200.

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