With the dawn of early voting and the election on the horizon, local neighborhoods are now facing a nationwide crime spree: kids are stealing political signs off of lawns.
It seems no one is immune. Lawn signs advocating support of the Biden/Harris campaign are being vandalized and abducted from lawns, just as ones who trumpet support for Trump/Pence are. They are carried away into the night, and neighbors using the Nextdoor social media app are very concerned.
“Last night someone stole my Trump Pence signs (2) from my yard and my Nextdoor neighbors too,” a Plano resident wrote in a Oct. 18 Nextdoor post that has now been removed. “This constitutes criminal trespass, and if I can match the person on my surveillance cam with you — I will have you arrested.”
Every election year incites a rash of these contentious crimes, both thievery and vandalism against lawn signs, and 2020 is no exception, as early voting commences and reports of violence toward political signs increase. Sign theft is once again striking all over the country, from Texas to Florida, to Washington D.C. itself.
In August, The Washington Post chronicled the way that Biden signs were vanishing in rural Pennsylvania. “It usually happens in the dark of night, local Democrats say, but sometimes in daylight. Sometimes entire streets or neighborhoods are cleared. Pro-Biden Facebook groups have devoted long threads to strategies for deterring sign snatchers — one suggestion involves clear hair gel and pesky glitter, another electrifying the metal frame with a car battery,” they reported.
Plano Public Relations Officer David Tilley says in every election year signs are vandalized and stolen. These antics, he says, seem pretty normal. “It seems more of the thefts have been from Trump/Pence signs… at least the ones I have been told about have been those.”
He does confirm a small, recent uptick in sign theft. From May to August, Tilley says they had 24 reports but in September, they had 26.
“Now I will say, I have seen more signs out recently than before so that could be part of it,” he says. “The more signs out there gives more opportunities for the theft to occur.”
In the Stratford Estates Neighborhood in Plano, for example, one resident wrote that all the Trump/Pence signs in her neighborhood had been stolen in the night and that those who live near a public park are unable to put out signs for this reason.
Another neighbor in the Jackson neighborhoods, between Plano Parkway and 15th Street, reported seeing Democratic signs wrecked and scattered across the yard. “Can we all please be civil and have respect for others’ property?” she wrote. “I don’t agree with some election posters in yards, but that doesn’t mean I wreck them.”
One neighbor denounced her for assuming it was a neighborhood person at all who committed this crime. Posting about the destruction—which was infantile—was only “sowing disharmony between neighbors.”
“If we could attribute anything bad that happens in a neighborhood to the neighbors, we would all be in jail,” she wrote. “We ALL have the right to presumption of innocence, unless there is clear and supported evidence.”
“No, we wouldn’t be in jail for assuming that someone in the neighborhood took down a political sign. LOL,” her neighbor replied.
Sign pilferers could face criminal mischief or theft charges, depending on the value of the sign. Small signs worth less than $100 constitute a Class C misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a $500 fine. A larger sign, or in the case of a criminal trespassing charge, could warrant up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.
The sign thievery has become such a problem that amateur sleuths are getting involved. In Oct. 18 post on Nextdoor titled “Wrongfully Accused,” one resident found herself the target of an amateur investigation into the sign warfare. She frequently picks up trash on her morning walk, and found a political sign abandoned on the street. When she gathered it along with her other daily debris, she was surprised to see a strange man taking a picture of her because he believed she was stealing the sign.
“Accusing someone of stealing without even asking or knowing what was going on is ridiculous,” she wrote. “… If you have my photo on your phone, I ask that you delete it.”
On Sunday, a neighbor reminded his online community that according to Texas Penal Code, “You are allowed to use booby traps to protect property you own as long as the trap will not cause serious injury. Note that while it’s legal in Texas, booby traps of all kinds violate the Geneva Convention.”
However, one neighbor offered a possible culprit: young folks.
“I saw on Facebook that in some communities, stealing signs has become a challenge among young folks,” she wrote, to which one of her neighbors recalled seeing three teenage boys taking them.
Another replied, “God help them if I catch them.”
In Lake Mary, Florida, police reported that social media app TikTok is to blame for some of it—at least some of the Trump signs. One suspect in a Lake Mary sign theft said that her motivation was a TikTok challenge.
“They create a video of them taking the signs and sometimes it’s a matter of how many signs they can take, over the course of the night,” Lake Mary investigators say. Though they caution that not all sign thieves and vandals are part of the TikTok challenge, some might be using that as motivation. No other departments have made a similar announcement.
Whatever its cause, sign theft is likely to continue. Most who are victims of this thievery are undeterred and unchanged in their beliefs.
“No problem, childish immature thieves,” wrote one Plano resident whose Trump/Pence sign was stolen. “We’ll just get more than we had before.”