Election signs vandalized, stolen off streets

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, April 14, 2013

     Like mushrooms sprouting in the grass after a rain, candidate’s campaign signs have begun to appear across Brookhaven with the clockwork consistency of the election cycle itself.

     However, the colors, fonts and logos of these electoral yard signs and banners can often be counted on to attract vandals instead of voters.

     Police Chief Pap Henderson said he’s begun to hear of political campaign signs subjected to criminal mischief.

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     “I’ve started getting reports of missing signs and political signs being vandalized,” Henderson said.

     He underscored for Brookhaven residents that such vandalism isn’t a prank but a crime.

     “It is illegal,” the chief said. “There are laws against stealing or taking political signs that belong to these candidates.”

     Police plan to respond accordingly. Henderson said anyone caught stealing, removing or destroying a campaign sign will be subject to criminal charges.

     These charges could range from petty larceny to grand larceny depending on the dollar value of what was stolen or damaged.

     Destruction and vandalism of signs tends to be a recurring problem during election years, the chief said. So far this year, Brookhaven has been a relatively safe place for political yard signs. It’s only within the last week that Henderson has received word of trouble.

     The chief said three different candidates have reported problems. One had a large sign cut in four or five places while two other candidates had stolen signs.

     The destroyed sign was on Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Drive, while signs were stolen on South Church Street and several more taken on Gleason Loop.

     “It’s really small so far,” the chief said, and he wants to make sure it stays that way.

     This year, Henderson doesn’t have a personal stake in the issue, because he isn’t running for re-election. He does have the experience, though, to provide a candidate’s perspective.

     “I was once a candidate,” he said. “You pay for those and you really don’t want people taking them and destroying them.”

     The chief did caution candidates to ensure they’re putting signs up in places they’re wanted.

     “A lot of times you have candidates put signs on people’s property without their knowledge,” Henderson said.

     The chief asked that if someone has a sign placed in their yard without permission, they call the Brookhaven Police Department to come by and pick up the sign.

     “At least we’ll know it wasn’t stolen,” Henderson said.

     However, rogue placement doesn’t seem to blame for the recent rash of thefts.

     “The signs stolen were there by permission,” he said. “It wasn’t that the property owner took them down.”

     Henderson also issued a reminder that campaign signs cannot be placed on city property or within the right of way of public streets and warned that his department will begin taking signs down if they’re placed on public property.

     Building Inspector Chip Gennaro has noticed some minor issues with signs on public property.

     “I’ve seen some but they haven’t gotten bad yet,” said Gennaro.

     Brookway Boulevard and the intersection of highways 84 and 51 usually attract the most wayward signs, Gennaro said.

     The building inspector advised candidates that anything behind a light pole or water meter should be safe territory, provided the property owned has approved.

     The lay of the land varies, though.

     “On some places there’s very little right of way and other places, like the Boulevard, it’s pretty wide,” Gennaro said.