The Case of Montgomery’s Missing Lawn Signs
By Barbara A. Preston | Posted October 18, 2023
Tis the season of the lawn sign. Montgomery Township usually has a fair amount of these durable, cheap little billboards that advertise everything from tree-trimming to rain-gutter cleaning, driveway masonry, and even knife sharpening.
Each October, political signs are added to the mix. In some cases, an intersection ends up with 20 or more signs — turning local lawns into an advertising bonanza.
Such is the case on the corner of Sunset and Burnt Hill roads. Suddenly, there were about 20 signs. On Monday, October 16, signs started disappearing.
A Montgomery school employee and others reported them missing. Rumors started. Someone who wished to remain anonymous contacted The Montgomery News to report possible political sabotage, saying a candidate for local office removed an opponent’s signs.
A few of the lawn signs at the corner of Burnt Hill and Sunset roads in Montgomery Township.
In New Jersey, stealing campaign signs is not a prank. It is a crime, according to Montgomery Township Police Lieutenant Tom Frascella.
The theft of a campaign sign can lead to a disorderly person’s charge, he said. Since the value of a lawn sign is generally well below $200, the crime would be considered a disorderly persons offense. Incarceration for this offense can be up to six months in jail and fines can be up to $1,000. While jail-time would be rare, people with an impulse to tamper with political signs should keep in mind that it would be extremely embarrassing to be found tampering with another’s campaign sign.
Campaign signs are considered personal property. If posted on private property, only the property owner or those authorized by the property owner may remove a campaign sign. If the sign is posted on public property, only the state or township maintenance department, or law enforcement personnel in addition to the sign owner may remove the campaign sign.
Clues about the Missing Montgomery Signs
First the signs were there, then they were not. Then they were back again.
On Monday, October 16 at 5:05 pm, a Montgomery school employee who asked the newspaper to withhold their name, observed a white male, approximately 17 to 19 years old with unwashed blondish hair wearing a black shirt removing what appeared to be political signs from the curb at the corner of Sunset and Burnt Hill roads. The young man’s black Honda was parked at the roadside, with flashing lights.
By 5:25 pm, all the signs were gone, according to the employee.
By 6:40 pm, the signs were back again, according to the same employee who drove by while on a errand.
“It was a weird one,” Lt. Frascella of the Montgomery police said.
A Sunset Road resident reported to police that a man took one campaign sign from his front yard on October 16 and drove off with it. Police were provided with the license plate number of vehicle.
It turns out that the get-away vehicle was registered to a nearby resident on Burnt Hill Road. Police officers paid a visit.
The defendant shared with police that he had taken not just one sign, but 15 to 20 signs from the Sunset Road corner. In fact, he readily showed police a pile of yard signs that included political campaign ads, but also advertisements for community events, masonry work, and flags for heroes.
“He had taken every sign posted near the intersection,” Lt. Frascella said. “When asked why, he related that he just picked up the signs from the intersection. He was trying to clean up the area.
“He did not think it was a big deal until a woman came out and yelled at him, so he drove home.
“He offered to return and repost all of the signs.”
Article continues after ad.
The Montgomery police officers took the signs and returned them to the Sunset Road resident who reported the theft of one single sign.
Police determined this was not a political issue because signs from all party affiliations—as well as the other signs for businesses and events—were removed. The victim decided not to pursue a complaint at this time, police said.
In fact, the victim was happy to take all of the signs removed and return them to the intersection area—regardless of party affiliations.
Lt. Frascella said police are not releasing the name of the defendant at this time. ■