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Vandals repeatedly spray-paint RCS service agency vehicles in Clearwater

Two separate tagging cases have RCS officials worried but police think the incidents are a coincidence. 

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Two separate tagging cases have RCS officials worried but police think the incidents are a coincidence. 

CLEARWATER — Police are searching for the culprits behind two incidents of vandalism committed within three days at a prominent social service agency.

On Monday, employees and volunteers at the RCS Food Bank discovered words and symbols had been spray-painted over the weekend on a 16-foot box truck and a 24-foot refrigerated semitrailer parked behind the building, at 700 Druid Road.

Then on Wednesday, employees say, graffiti was discovered on a fence outside The Haven of RCS, a domestic violence shelter at a different Clearwater location.

The damage to both properties, estimated at $5,000, has RCS officials wondering if their agency is being purposely targeted.

"That's my fear," said Lisa Matzner, director of development, "and especially with the domestic violence program, that's frightening."

At this point, police say they believe the acts were random.

Clearwater police spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts said this type of vandalism is commonly referred to as tagging and is gang-related. The words and symbols have no literal meaning, she said.

"It was more likely this was an opportunity — a clean place to write/spray paint," Watts said in an e-mail. "It is a gang recognition designation used to signal others that they have claimed a certain area."

Police had no suspects Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, RCS officials said they will work to replace the large images that covered the sides of both vandalized trucks. Just two years ago, Matzner said, the agency raised roughly $3,500 in private donations to refurbish the used vehicles with the agency's logo, mission and cheerful photos of smiling faces.

So far, nail polish remover has taken off the graffiti, but it also rubs away the expensive graphics.

"We have insurance, but we have our deductibles to pay and it's just not worth it," Matzner said.

"I don't know what all that graffiti means, but I certainly don't want to be promoting that," she said. "So we'll just paint over it or wipe out all that money we spent ... and wait until we find other funding to replace that."

RCS, a program of Religious Community Services Inc., says it served more than 96,000 people last year through its food bank, domestic violence center, thrift store, Grace House shelter for homeless families, and rental, mortgage and utilities assistance program.

Matzner said the food bank alone served 58,000 people last year.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Vandals repeatedly spray-paint RCS service agency vehicles in Clearwater 06/16/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 16, 2011 7:29pm]
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