LABELLE — From down ballot candidates to the Presidential ticket, there are a plethora of political advertisements seen along roadsides, in freshly mowed lawns, and on vehicles as Election Day gets closer. Passions and tensions are on the rise, and each day there are more and more yard signs for various political candidates popping up all around the community. But, almost as quickly as they are put out, many have gone missing.
Residents have noticed their political swag has not only disappeared, some has also been vandalized. Reports of flags being ripped and torn down, signs run over, vehicles with stickers have been found scratched and dented, and even a few cases of spray paint have been reported.
Along Fort Denaud Road the home of a local candidate for State Representative was vandalized. Around the neighborhoods of Fraser Avenue and Hendry Street, residents report that their signs have been mowed down by lawnmowers and also repeatedly go missing in the dark of night.
In one recent case, a group of teenagers posted videos of the many signs they had stolen, on the popular social media platform, SnapChat. Currently, that matter is being investigated.
Stealing or defacing political signs is a crime. Florida Statute, in particular Section 812.014, addresses theft, defined as “knowingly obtaining or using, or endeavoring to obtain or use, the property of another, either temporarily or permanently.” The definition also includes “depriving another of the right to, or benefit from, a property, as well as the appropriation of property to which the person is not entitled.”
The statute that applies specifically to political signs is subsection 3(a), which makes any property theft not specified in subsection (2) “a petit theft of the second degree and a misdemeanor in the second degree.”
Per the statute, “petit theft is theft of property that is valued at less than $100. A second-degree misdemeanor, petit theft is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.”
While sign stealing is rarely prosecuted or even reported to authorities, local homeowners have begun to nail their signs up high, in trees, or display them from behind a fence or window. Several have set up outdoor home security cameras or “game” cameras, in the event the vandals or thieves return. Most say no matter what, they will continue to replace their signs, as needed, until Election Day.