Political sign thefts stir plenty of anger

Sunday, October 26, 2008 5:45 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

When Woodbridge resident Rob Kravitz bought eight signs supporting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama earlier this year, he expected to use one for himself and distribute the rest to friends.

But he said that so many signs disappeared from his yard that he used up almost all of his back-ups and ordered another six to give to other Obama supporters.

At the same time, Kravitz became concerned about a hand-made sign in front of a house in Woodbridge that told whoever stole their “Nobama” sign to “please die.” The plywood sign with a plastic “Nobama” attached with dozens of staples now reads, “Morons stole our Nobama sign.”

“I think that’s a little over the top, but I understand the anger because I’ve had six Obama signs taken from my lawn over a six-month period of time,” Kravitz said, noting that all of his signs disappeared Sunday mornings when he was taking his children to Sunday school. “My sister, very hopeful, said, ‘Well, it’s probably someone who is taking this sign for their own lawn.’”

Local police officials say it is the time of year when they see a steady stream of complaints about missing or vandalized political signs. And while they concede that the crimes are difficult to investigate, they are reminding people that the acts could bring a larceny or criminal mischief charge.

Despite the heated presidential race between Obama and Republican contender John McCain, officials said they have not noticed an increase in political sign complaints. Signs for local political races are also frequently stolen, which can erode a small-town candidate’s campaign budget. Thick plastic signs cost an average of $30.

Shelton police sent out a news release saying that the city has had several incidents of vandalism and theft of political signs and noting that the department “takes this matter seriously because it infringes on a person’s right to voice their political opinion.”

Shelton Sgt. Robert Kozlowsky said there have been half a dozen formal complaints about political signs, which is “on par for” a normal election season.

“It is a criminal offense,” he said. “Some people kind of forget that, and they think that the signs are just placed out there and they can do whatever they want with them.”

Guilford Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey Hutchinson said the town has not had many thefts this year.

“You have some every year, every election season,” he said. “It’s not an abnormal amount.”

Guilford has had a handful of filed complaints about yard signs in the past month, according to police reports, and one man who lives on Route 80 came in twice to report the ongoing theft of Obama signs from his lawn.

But Hutchinson said he does not think many of the thefts have political undertones. Rather, he said, they may be pranks or the work of teenagers out at night.

While the majority of the thefts reported in Guilford have been of Obama signs, that may be because more people in town have those signs in their yards.

Kozlowsky agreed that, while the thefts have a political impact, he does not think they are politically motivated.

“It doesn’t seem (like) someone’s doing it to attack a certain political group,” he said. “It seems more like kids taking them and wrecking the signs.”

Thomas Fowler, deputy police chief in Branford, said the town saw more of a problem with thefts and vandalism last year during the first selectman’s race between Anthony “Unk” DaRos, Cheryl Morris and John Opie.

Fowler said some people have called the department this year, but there have been no formal complaints.

“Obviously people have signs out front and during any election some disappear,” he said.

He added that the complaints can be difficult to investigate.

“Unless we catch them in the act or somebody sees them doing it, it’s very hard to pursue those,” he said.

With new technology, some people have turned to the Internet to monitor their yard signs after thefts. Web sites such as www.ustream.tv/channel/obama-sign-cctv-1 have sprung up to allow people the world over to keep an eye on the signs, and YouTube videos document vandals or thieves in the act.

Kravitz said he called town officials to complain about the “Nobama” sign — thinking that the language was inappropriate — but they told him that they would not get involved with a political issue. The owners of the sign could not be reached for comment.

“I said, ‘I don’t think it’s political in nature; I just think it’s offensive,’” he said. “The next day it was kind of painted over. … I’m sure the town didn’t do anything about it, but I think maybe the people that had the sign might have on their own.”

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