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Marquette Police Department: Stealing campaign signs is considered a crime

Cases of campaign signs getting stolen from homes have popped up in Marquette in recent weeks. The Marquette Police Department reminds residents that the theft of campaign signs is a crime that can be considered larceny of under $200. (Journal photo by Ryan Spitza)

MARQUETTE — The theft of campaign signs is a recurring issue during national election cycles.

Though it might not seem like a problem in smaller communities like Marquette, local cases of sign stealing have popped up over the last several weeks.

The issue was recently taken to the Marquette Police Department by a group of neighbors along Magnetic Street, who claim to have had multiple Joe Biden signs stolen from their lawns overnight.

“We’ve been putting signs out probably for the last six weeks, and in those last six weeks we’ve lost two signs,” said John Jasinski, Marquette resident and one of the neighbors to report the string of thefts. “There are four houses in a row here and they seem to be experiencing the same losses whenever it occurs.”

Jasinski added anyone who falls victim to having their campaign signs stolen is also having their freedom-of-speech rights taken away.

“Because of our First Amendment rights,” he said, “we shouldn’t feel that we have the need to intimidate each other or have to play practical jokes or pranks when the stakes are so high and our liberty is at stake.

“The behavior here is completely counterproductive, because it’s only energized me. There’s more signs where they came from. My next-door neighbor is building a larger sign, and we are creating this (media) segment here which is highlighting the problem. In terms of trying to silence our voices or silence an opinion of this country, it’s completely counterproductive.”

The issue appears to be more emotionally charged this year as opposed to previous election years. A country divided amid racial inequality and COVID-19, citizens are pushing for their desired presidential candidate, Biden or President Donald Trump, more so than ever before.

While Biden yard signs were the ones to initially be reported stolen, MPD Detective Capt. Greg Kinonen said the act occurs frequently on both sides of the political spectrum, Trump signs included.

“During an election year, it’s a very common thing we see with these signs getting stolen,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what political party, it’s these people that are out and about and walking around town. It doesn’t necessarily mean a political statement, it could be anybody just walking down the street and if it’s there, they see it and pull it out.”

Kinonen said that sign snatching is considered a crime and that police will sometimes catch the perpetrator in the middle of the act.

“Technically speaking, it can be considered larceny under $200,” he said. “Even though there’s not a whole lot of value to the signs, we want to remind people that it is a crime to take somebody else’s property.

“Our midnight patrol is out all night long and we do come across people that are doing it. Do we necessarily charge them every time? No, we don’t. Sometimes we’ll make them return the signs, sometimes we’ll collect them and bring them down here to the (police department) and if somebody calls and complains that their sign was stolen, we’ll return it.”

According to a press release from the Gladstone post of the Michigan State Police, the penalty for sign snatching can climb even higher. Michigan law states that stealing or defacing political signs is a misdemeanor that can carry a maximum penalty of a $500 fine or imprisonment of up to 90 days in jail.

Extreme tactics have been used by homeowners across the U.S. to deter people from stealing their campaign signs. Those tactics include things like putting dog poop or a car battery near the signs, or even sticking the sign in a bush of poison ivy.

The police don’t recommend taking things too far, but Kinonen said there are steps people can take to try to prevent their signs from being swiped.

“What I would do as far as the signs go, I’d move them a little closer to your houses,” he said. “Maybe leave an outside light on, have a motion light or something like that to deter people from coming into your yard.”

According to the city of Marquette’s Land Development Code, campaign signs are considered “temporary signs,” a sign intended to display either commercial or non-commercial messages of a transitory or temporary nature. These are signs not permanently embedded into the ground or affixed to a building or sign structure.

Residents are permitted to have four signs in their lot that do not exceed 6 feet in height or 24 square feet in area.

Signs may not be placed on any property without approval of the property owner and are not permitted to be in the public right-of-way.

“They’re not supposed to be anywhere in the right-of-way, in this case the area between the sidewalk and the road,” Kinonen said. “They’re not supposed to be in that grassy area. I don’t know the exact feet the signs need to be back, but the idea of keeping things from being taken from your yard is to get it further back from the road, in all honesty. People are a lot more leery to come up to somebody’s house and take it when it’s right in front of their front porch. It just might be something to consider.”

Marquette City Planner and Zoning Administrator Dave Stensaas said, “A good rule of thumb for most residential properties is to assume there is at least 10 feet of public right-of-way between the curb and the home if there is a sidewalk, and up to 20 feet of right-of-way if there is no sidewalk on the street. Streets are typically about two-thirds the width of the public right-of-way, but the width of the streets and rights-of-way varies significantly around town, so good practice for homeowners is to keep signs as close to their homes as possible if they have any doubts about their sign being off their property.”

Jasinski said the theft of signs seems pointless due to the fact that it’s difficult to get somebody to change their opinion on a matter, and he also believes that having civil conversations with those who hold differing viewpoints is important.

“It seems petty,” he said. “Of course we’ve all driven down the street and have probably thought in one of our darkest hours to do the same thing, but I would not indulge in that sort of behavior.

“We need to have more conversation between each side. I work in an area with a lot of different people and as long as we don’t talk about national politics, everyone gets along just fine. That (conversation) would be an excellent outcome. You’d probably find out that we aren’t as extreme as you think we are and that we all have more in common than we don’t.”

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