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Campaign sign thefts are up this year in county

With an election of historic proportions days away, citizens across the country and Douglas County have shown a renewed interest in politics this year. Thieves, too.

There have been 14 reported incidents of campaign sign thefts throughout the county this political season, according to police records, and local political party offices put the number much higher.

In 2006 - the last election year - authorities recorded one campaign sign theft incident.

Suzi Hiett, office manager for Douglas County's Democratic Party affiliate, said this year her organization has recorded easily 100 incidents of DFL candidate signs being snatched.

"We've had people who have had their signs taken over and over again," Hiett said. "I've had my signs stolen three times."

Dan Haglin, chairman of the Douglas County Republican Party, said his group has also received reports of stolen signs.

"I do know one of our volunteers here had reported that a bunch of [GOP candidate signs] were left right on the sidewalk outside our office," Haglin said. "We do not support or condone this kind of behavior."

Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen, who had many of his own signs stolen or damaged when he was elected in 2006, said it's hard to gauge how many signs are swiped in a given year because so many incidents go unreported.

And for every incident reported, as many as 20 to 30 signs can be stolen, he said.

Wolbersen attributed this year's high number of thefts to more signs being put up earlier in the season.

"There were signs all over the place in July," he said, "and there are a lot of kids running around with a lot of free time in July."

Wolbersen also said several of this year's reported incidents involved the same group of kids repeatedly stealing the same set of signs belonging to one local candidate.

"The signs would get recovered," he said, "and [the kids] would go out and do it again."

No matter who's behind the thefts, Hiett said she's sick of it.

"It's not sharing an opinion," she said. "It's just pure vandalism, as far as I'm concerned.

Under state law, stealing a campaign sign counts as a misdemeanor theft, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.