Police in Tamaqua Borough and Rush Township are investigating a recent wave of graffiti vandalism on public and private property in both municipalities as the recent spree prompts a debate on social networks.
Although no official complaints by property owners had been reported to Tamaqua police as of Tuesday morning, local police are aware of the incidents and have taken action.
The acts appear to have taken place over the past four or five days. The unknown actor(s) spray-painted what appears to be the letters MEWS and, in some cases, the letters SMS. The meaning of the initials is unclear and police are trying to determine if the marks can be linked to gangs known to operate in the region, according to Police Chief Dave Mattson.
Cpl. Henry Woods indicated that police in the local area will determine if similar markings have turned up in other communities.
Among the locations in the Tamaqua area hit by graffiti are: the borough-installed retaining wall along Pleasant Row in the vicinity of the former Eames Bakery; at Rear Center Street along the side of a brick building housing U.S. Towing & Demolition; on East Cottage Avenue along the east wall at the rear of the former Knights of Columbus building; on East Mauch Chunk Street at an east-facing safety wall above the Little Schuylkill River; and along Route 309 at a former Chevrolet dealership on the Hometown Hill in Rush Township, where plate glass windows and garage doors have been defaced.
Mattson noted that in many cases the acts are perpetrated at locations out of range of security cameras.
Property owner Tim Stahl has posted a $100 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprits.
The most recent spree of graffiti "art" in the local area has triggered extensive discussion on the Internet in Facebook's Tamaqua Then and Now page and on other social media. Many of the posted remarks are asking if Tamaqua is being taken over by an outside element, and "is Tamaqua becoming another Hazleton?"
One former resident posted: "On our way home from a baseball game on Sunday night we passed a fight in progress on Center Street. The houses across from Burger King seem to have some riffraff living there. I felt bad as I drove by and got the feeling I am witnessing the end of life as we all once knew it in Tamaqua. It's a shame but I don't really feel like there is anything that can be done to stop it now."
Others, however, disagree, with one man posting: "Are you forgetting about all of the good people who live in Tamaqua too? My parents and three sisters (and their families) live there. There are lots of decent, honest and hardworking people who still call it home. After traveling around the world for 20 years on a cargo plane in the U.S. Air Force, take it from me, every city/town on this planet has their so-called undesirable citizens. Although Tamaqua may have more challenges facing it than in years past, it is still a relatively safe place to live and raise a family."
Members of the Tamaqua Volunteers community initiative group will be spending time over the next few days cleaning up the graffiti. Volunteers pointed out, "When it comes to graffiti, the less time it is visible, the better."
Tamaqua Crime Watch is offering a $300 cash reward for the first person to provide a court-used statement which results in the conviction of any of the vandals. For more information about the cleanup or reward call (570) 668-1234.