Feet from where shoppers loaded big-screen televisions and expensive computers into their cars last weekend were some markings that few would notice. But the seemingly random combination of letters and numbers spray painted on the glass enclosure surrounding the NJ Transit bus stop near the Best Buy electronics store in Brick may have a deeper meaning – or none at all.
The graffiti painted at the Chambers Bridge Road bus stop reads, "Sur 13," a marking commonly associated with the Sureños street gang, which traces its roots to Southern California in the 1960s.
"Most times what we're seeing locally, is that they're just announcing that they're here or have been here," said Brick Police Chief Nils R. Bergquist, responding to an inquiry from Brick Patch about the graffiti on the bus stop enclosure after a reader sent in a photograph.
Bergquist said the township police department keeps on "anything we suspect could even be remotely connected to gang activity," but that it's often difficult to determine whether such graffiti is actually a function of gang activity, or simply an imposter.
"Sometimes, it's people who are emulating gangs," the chief said.
A State Police report on gangs released earlier this year indicated 24 members from five gangs lived in Brick in 2010. Bergquist, however, estimated at the time about double that number now actually live in the township, though the figure is always fluctuating.
Bergquist said Brick police "routinely" arrest gang members and earlier this year hired a civilian to administer a special record-keeping module that tracks gang activity and gang intelligence.
Police officers share intelligence – including instances of graffiti – with their counterparts in other local police departments, as well as the county prosecutor's office, to see if any meaning can be derived from graffiti that could be linked to gang activity. Bergquist said there have been two or three incidents related to gang graffiti in the past several months, and police arrested a juvenile from out of town in November related to one of them.
But the vast majority of graffiti in Brick, the chief said, doesn't have any deeper meaning.
"A very small percentage of the graffiti that we see is actually gang related," he said.
Earlier this fall, he said, someone spray painted graffiti on the center median of Route 70 that was essentially meaningless. It was later removed using a special substance that highway crews use to wash away the paint.
When graffiti is spotted, police officers take photographs, then request it be removed, either by the township public works department or the owner of a property where it was sprayed.
"That's a quality of life issue for the people in the neighborhood, and it also puts a message out to the people putting it up that we're not going to stand for it," Bergquist said.