COLLEGE STATION, TX — Taking a street sign from its post to hang up on the wall of a home might seem harmless. But, over the course of the past year, local law enforcement has dealt with hundreds of cases of theft and property damage. Their biggest fear is that it could lead to someone getting hurt or seriously injured.
The loss of street signs can cause safety issues for the community. According to College Station Police [CSPD] spokesperson Ofc. Tristen Lopez, even with the advent of GPS, without street signs, fire truck and ambulance drivers can still have difficulty locating a home, or finding a place to park at the scene of an emergency.
"Signs are there to regulate the flow of traffic," he noted. "If signs are missing - if it’s a stop sign, then do the [motorists] know that they need to stop? Or do they keep on going, [causing] a traffic collision that could result in damage, bodily injury or even death?”
According to CSPD, street sign theft causes damages which costs the city approximately $30,000 in tax payer money each year.
"They’re really stolen from all around the city, but about 30% of them, or about a third, are stolen from the Barracks neighborhood - that subdivision and surrounding neighborhoods," Lopez said. "If you include the surrounding area, it even gets as high as 40%.”
Over the past few months, college station staff say that the theft rate of signs has quadrupled, with nearly four hundred signs stolen for the last fiscal year. Often, the offenders are found to be college students, such as fraternity members completing pledge initiations. Signs stolen range from ‘no parking’ messages to stop signs.
Any time a person steals a street sign, it’s people like Garrett Martinek, traffic systems division manager for College Station, who have to clean up the aftermath..
"When we end up putting some of out resources towards these missing, stolen signs, it sometimes sets us back from doing some of our other maintenance activities," Martinek said. "If they just stole the street name sign, we design it, we fabricate it, which is a process as well, and then we have to get a technician out and they install it.”
Martinek said signs are fabricated in-house. Every other day, his team has to spend hours of labor re creating signs, and reconstructing damaged poles and concrete.
Stealing a street sign is considered a crime of property theft, and could result in spending several months in jail, alongside a fine of $2,000. Taking a sign from its post could result in damage affecting many people.