Stealing campaign signs isn’t a prank, it’s a crime – even if it’s hard for the cops to prove
Lt. Scott Anderle is not exactly surprised by the series of reports his department has received regarding the theft of campaign signs this month. In his nearly 20 years with the Watchung Police Department in Somerset County, no election has been held without the theft of campaign signs.
“Believe it or not, it’s pretty common,” Anderle told NJ Advance Media.
Although election sign theft is a common occurrence during presidential elections, elected officials and law enforcement interviewed by NJ Advance Media said that the local board of education or gubernatorial race signs n were no less likely to be poached. And although it is a criminal offense, officers said the nature of the crime makes it incredibly difficult to prove.
The Watchung Police Department collected six separate reports of campaign sign theft from October 4 to 18, according to Watchung Police press releases. Browsing through the ministry’s registration system, Anderle said he could find incidents of reported campaign sign theft dating back years.
But what people often don’t realize, said Anderle and others, is that stealing a campaign signature from someone’s property isn’t just a harmless prank.
“It’s a crime,” Aderle said.
The theft of a campaign sign can be prosecuted under the General Theft Act of the New Jersey Criminal Justice Code. Since the general value of campaign signs is less than $ 200, the felony is considered a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey. Typically, incarceration for this offense can be up to six months in jail and fines can be up to $ 1,000, Anderle said.
“Most of the time they’re not seen as anything of value, but if a campaign has to spend money and print them – and I know printing doesn’t come cheap – there is value. to those things and if they’re being stolen, it’s theft, with consequences, ”Anderle said.
However, even if a campaign sign theft is reported, the lieutenant said investigating these cases can be complicated.
“These are super tough cases, even now that Ring cameras are more prevalent, we still haven’t had a lot of luck identifying the sign takers,” Anderle said.
It’s much the same at the Hawthorne Police Department in Passaic County, said Detective Lt. Matthew Hoogmoed, whose department was tasked with investigating the theft of dozens of political signs the year. last, including a sign belonging to Mayor Richard S. Goldberg.
“The theft of signs is very difficult to investigate. We haven’t identified a lot of people who stole signs except when they indicated on social media that they stole signs, ”Hoogmoed said.
Most thefts happen at night, he added, and “although many people have cameras on their property these days, it is difficult to identify a vehicle license plate and people.” , especially at this time.
Campaign sign theft cases are also rarely straightforward, said Walter Baumgarten, mayor of Bethlehem in Hunterdon County.
“People who don’t like the candidates will steal the signs,” Baumgarten said.
But there are also incidents in which the owners are the ones removing the campaign signs because they were placed on their property without approval, Baumgarten said. Applicants or volunteers who placed these signs may later notice their absence and conclude that their removal was malicious.
“A lot of candidates don’t even ask for permission and they will put them [signs] on people’s properties. And homeowners will sometimes remove the signs. Sometimes they call and say, ‘Hey, take your signature off,’ and sometimes they don’t, they just throw them away, ‘Baumgarten said.
State law regulates the location of commercial signs and their size or brightness, but leaves the issue of political signs on lawns to local governments. In Bethlehem, political signs may only be placed on private, non-commercial property by the owner or with the permission of the owner. This means that they cannot simply be placed along the road where no one seems to be living. This includes city, state, county, and other streets, roads, or highways.
Baumgarten, who lost his bid for reelection in the summer primaries, said he even warned his opponents not to put their signs on state and county properties, like Heritage Park.
“Don’t put them in the playpen because they’re going to take it apart. And it’s not me doing it, it’s not someone who loves me doing it, it’s the guy who mows the grass and needs it his way, ”said Baumgarten.
And sometimes, he added, the culprit behind the theft of signs is the campaign itself.
“Sometimes candidates take down their own signs and go to Facebook and play the pity party. It’s a lot more complicated than people think, ”Baumgarten said.
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