ARLINGTON — Karen and Jobie Smith have lived in their southwest Arlington home on the corner of 3400 Ruidoso Drive for 31 years without experiencing any vandalism.But one morning this week, Jobie Smith went out to get the newspaper and found graffiti spray-painted on their fence — the letters VTF, followed by x3 and the world Diablo with the letter a backwards.“I was just commenting to my husband the other day that our neighborhood was looking good and taken care of,” Karen Smith said.They weren’t alone. Similar graffiti, or tagging, suddenly appeared off Interstate 20 near Park Springs, Green Oaks Boulevard and South Bowen Road. The tagging was on houses, fences, vehicles, utility boxes and Wood Elementary School. Tina Morales, who owns a rental house on Solano Drive, said her tenant messaged her Tuesday after he found his white SUV tagged with neon orange words Pancho Villa and VTF x3.And in White Settlement, police had received three reports of VTF graffiti as of Tuesday. The White Settlement properties tagged were a fence and brick house on Rumfield Road and Carlos Street, and a water tower in the nearby Lakeview Ridge area off South Las Vegas Trail. White Settlement police said they’ve been in contact with Arlington police. The vandal or vandals could be charged with a class A or B misdemeanor, White Settlement police Sgt. Tim Denison said.Denison said no new cases had been reported as of Friday night.Gang fear downplayedAlthough there’s been social media speculation that the graffiti is tied to a Hispanic or Vietnamese gang out of California, Arlington police don’t think that’s the case. Sgt. Jeffrey Houston, an Arlington police spokesman, said officers have not seen the presence of any California gangs in Arlington. Likewise, Denison said he was not sure the graffiti was gang-related. “We really don’t have a big problem with gangs,” he said. It’s possible that the vandal is a teenager, or group of teenagers, with ties to both cities, Denison said.Detra Call,a Fort Worth graffiti abatement coordinator, said Fort Worth hasn’t received any reports of VTF tagging.In her experience, she said, when a tag with lettering is legible, it’s usually gang-related. “It’s because they want the other gang rivals to know that they were there,” Call said. “They have their own language.”But Arlington police Lt. Christopher Cook said in an email Friday: “It's simply too early to know if this truly is tied to gang affiliation or simply someone painting graffiti and trying to mask it as gang-related.“We have seen cases where teens watch TV shows or news clips and do copy-cat offenses which are not gang-related. Hopefully a witness will come forward and we will get some leads.” Graffiti removedArlington crews immediately removed the graffiti from three sides of the main building and one side of the kindergarten building at Wood Elementary, said Arlington school spokeswoman Leslie Johnston. On Friday, workers with Arlington’s graffiti abatement program power-washed fences and painted garage doors in seven places to cover the tagging, said Misty Gutierrez, a Community Services field operations manager.“As soon as we got word of what was going on Tuesday, we sent staff out there knocking on doors to see if we could help with the removal,” Gutierrez said.The abatement program takes care of graffiti at no expense to consenting property owners, but it does not cover vehicles. At least two vehicles were spray-painted. White Settlement does not have an abatement program. Arlington Councilwoman Sheri Capehart said she was surprised to learn that “something of this magnitude” had occurred in her district. “We have not had this level of graffiti in a localized area,” Capehart said. “We have had some graffiti on businesses and on a barn — but nothing like this.”The city recommends that neighbors join citizen watch groups, and the police recommend that residents install motion sensor lights and cameras. In the meantime, police have increased patrols of the area. Staff writer Susan Schrock contributed to this report.
Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792 Twitter:@MonicaNagyFWST