Possession of street signs now illegal

Prior to the ordinance, people could only be punished if they were caught in the act of stealing a street sign.

The city of Columbia spends more than $100,000 replacing more than 1,000 street signs that are stolen yearly, street superintendent Jim McKinnon said. After Monday's City Council meeting, McKinnon hopes to see those numbers drop.

The City Council on Monday approved an ordinance that would allow for a maximum penalty of $500 and up to 90 days in jail if one is found in possession of stolen street signs.

"Our traffic division only has five people, and they have plenty of work to do without replacing all the street signs stolen per year," McKinnon said.

He also said he feels there had been a recent increase in the number of street signs stolen.

"I think it's just become a fad actually for decoration for apartments and dorm rooms and the stealing has increased considerably in the last four years," McKinnon said.

The new ordinance will allow police to fine the owner and confiscate the sign if they find stolen signs in a residence to which they have been called for any reason, such as a noise violation.

Prior to the passage of the ordinance, people could only be punished if they were caught in the act of stealing a street sign.

"We're not going be knocking on people's doors and checking for street signs, but this ordinance will allow us to take some action related to that if we need to," Columbia police Chief Randy Boehm said.

McKinnon and Boehm said they are optimistic that the ordinance will deter people from stealing street signs. Boehm also said he feels it also will make police officers' jobs easier.

"An officer runs into problems with observing signs in a residence that the officer knows are stolen because sometimes it is difficult to prove whether or not the person who is in possession of the sign is the person who actually stole it," Boehm said.

On Monday afternoon, Sixth Ward Councilman Brian Ash said he was planning to vote in favor of the ordinance, and he did not feel it would be a controversial topic at the meeting.

"The odds are pretty low of actually catching someone in the act of stealing a street sign," he said. "Once you remove the appeal of displaying the sign, you get rid of the incentive to steal it."

At the meeting, Mayor Darwin Hindman suggested that duplicate copies of street signs could be offered for sale in places like the University Bookstore, though there are no plans to do so.

There are also no immediate plans to publicize the law through methods other than in press releases and briefings, Boehm said.

McKinnon said he has heard some discussion about creating places for people who have a stolen street sign in their possession to drop them off without facing consequences, but he added that nothing is certain yet.

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