Political signs covering a wide range of candidates and issues throughout the Chagrin Valley have been reported stolen in the last few months. Local police reports show a theft in some communities every week or so.
Pepper Pike is dotted with more than 500 red “No to Mixed Use” signs against Issue 34. In nearly every community in the valley, there are signs for presidential candidates, congressional candidates, state representatives and senators and judicial candidates. There are also expressions for movements such as “Black Lives Matter” and “We Support Law Enforcement.”
Orange Village Police Chief Chris Kostura, however, said that the reported thefts are typical. He said that he has been dealing with missing signs for 40 years during his tenure as a law enforcement officer.
“I think it’s typical but because it’s so much more heated, there’s more emphasis on the signs,” Chief Kostura said of this election year. “I think it’s reported [to the police] more this year, as well.”
In Orange, he has not noticed that one political party’s signs are stolen more often than another. The vast majority of the signs are removed overnight, he said. Stealing a political yard sign is considered a theft, which is a first-degree misdemeanor and carries a fine and jail time. At this time, no suspects have been caught. To deter thieves, Chief Kostura said that residents could take in their yard signs overnight.
In September, Gates Mills Village Council passed an ordinance to update their sign regulations. Law Director Todd Hunt said that due to the “really busy election season,” the administration received many calls from residents asking for the sign ordinances to be enforced. Mr. Hunt, however, found that some provisions had questionable legality due to recent case law so he recommended changes.
For example, he said that it is nearly impossible for a community to win a case about signs in court when there are restrictions that give preference to certain signs. Mr. Hunt explained that a municipality’s aesthetic interest is outweighed by the First Amendment’s free speech provisions, especially prior to an election when every citizen should be allowed to show their support or opposition to candidates and issues.
In the new ordinance, a “political sign” also includes an expression of a cause and there is no durational limit for how long signs can be left up, according to the ordinance.
Bainbridge Police Chief Jon Bokovitz also said that there have been political signs stolen in the township. There were more thefts in July and August, he said, but the issue has since calmed down. Most of the signs that were stolen were presidential election signs for both candidates. There were also banners taken from residential porches, he said.
“We do take this seriously,” Chief Bokovitz said. “We will prosecute those.”
He said that none of the sign thiefs have been found yet, except for an 18-year-old South Russell resident, who stole the Black Lives Matter sign that was burned with several Kenston students present earlier this fall.
Chief Bokovitz said that some of the thefts take place where houses are set back from other buildings and there are not nearby homes with witnesses. But other thefts take place in housing developments with plenty of witnesses.