Bel Air Police Chief Leo Matrangola was spot on at a recent meeting of the mayor and town commissioners when he said the problem with graffiti isn't that it is an indication of gang activity so much as it "causes the area to look rundown."
As such, it appears the town police department is taking a reasonable approach to a problem that is real, though hardly a matter of life and death.
Gang-related graffiti most assuredly does exist. Street thugs have used paint to mark their territories for quite some time, but they're hardly the only ones who've been known to make their presence known with an expression of pigment on a blank wall.
So called "graffiti artists" have held sway in certain hip crowds as their work is regarded as both vibrant, thanks to its color, and rebellious, thanks to its illegality. There's even a market for the stuff on the Internet; type the words "graffiti art" into Google, and the search engine knows before the words are completed to add two more "for sale."
Graffiti art for sale ranges in price from a few bucks for prints and postcards to, well, whatever you're willing to pay for large scale originals.
Does it rate?
Only time will tell, but if it's like any other fledgling form, odds are some of it will become highly regarded while an awful lot more will simply be regarded as awful or, worse yet if you're an artist, forgettable.
On the whole, though, what's in the offing in Bel Air is likely to be neither dangerous for its gang affiliation nor groundbreaking for its level of expression. It's worth noting that Bel Air is probably progressive enough that if a bunch of kids really wanted to express themselves in spray paint, and took the time to ask, there are probably at least a few property owners who'd be happy to have an amateur mural gracing the odd wall here and there. As such, Bel Air being on alert, but not high alert, when it comes to dealing with defacement of walls in public places is a good approach, especially with the warm nights of summer just a few weeks away.
Also worth noting is that graffiti is hardly the only problem facing the area patrolled by the county seat's police department. It's not necessarily a popular observation, but traffic law violations are, and long have been, a much greater threat to life, limb and property in and around Bel Air than taggers armed with paint. Fortunately, it's possible to be on the lookout for speeders and red light runners while searching at the same time for someone defacing a blank wall.