South Portland police are on the hunt for the people who spray-painted graffiti on a sound-barrier wall next to Interstate 295.

The tags – which spell out “BRO” repeatedly in black paint – cover nearly the entire length of the 3,550-foot wall between exits 3 and 4. State officials plan to paint the wall to cover the graffiti, but when that will happen depends on the weather.

South Portland police Officer Jeff Caldwell – the department’s designated anti-graffiti expert – said another officer saw several young people painting the wall a day or two before Christmas, but was unable to find them after chasing them through the neighborhood on the opposite side of the wall from the highway.

“It happened during a big snowstorm. The officer did stop and chase them, but he was going southbound (on I-295) so it wasn’t easy for him to get through traffic,” Caldwell said.

The concrete-and-wood-composite wall, installed in 2010 for $1.5 million, helps reduce the sound of traffic for the neighborhood that runs alongside the highway.

Generally speaking, a tag is the painter’s stylized signature. The graffiti on the highway wall appears to be a simple tag spelling out a name or initials.

Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, said the wall will be repainted when weather permits.

“We can’t get in and do an effective job right now,” he said. Talbot said he won’t know how much it will cost to repair the wall until crews start the work.

This is not the first time the wall has attracted the attention of graffiti taggers. Before it was even finished, a blue tarp was used to cover two wall panels that were vandalized. It has been tagged several times since.

South Portland adopted an anti-graffiti ordinance in 2004 and since then officers have been proactive about stopping graffiti in the city, Caldwell said. In the past decade, officers have charged about a dozen people with possessing graffiti tools such as spray paint or markers. All pleaded guilty, he said.

Caldwell said graffiti vandals, if caught, can be charged with criminal mischief. Most face fines, although jail time could also be imposed depending on the amount of damage done, he said.

Caldwell said he is especially interested in finding the people responsible for the “BRO” tags, which he said have also appeared elsewhere in South Portland and Portland.

“I would really love to know who that is. I’ve been looking for them,” Caldwell said. “When you have graffiti, it makes it seem like we don’t care about our city when we really do. We don’t want it in South Portland.”

Anyone with information about graffiti in South Portland can call Caldwell at 799-5511, ext. 7254, or leave an anonymous tip at 347-4100.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@pressherald.com

Twitter: @grahamgillian