Yard signs, as with T-shirts, buttons, and business cards, are a form of physical communication. This communication is not limited to signs that say “beware of dog” or the like. In recent years, political sign theft has spiked across the United States. Usually, people opposing the owner’s party are responsible for yard thefts. They are not professional criminals.
The police need evidence if you wish to bring your yard thief to justice, but what is the best way to get that if you cannot deter the thieves entirely? Before election season heats up, here are ten tips to ensure that the opposing party does not steal your signs.
Tips to Prevent Yard Signs From Being Stolen
Think Like a Thief
Many of the points in this article are about criminal psychology, even if they do not say so outright. If you can put yourself in the thief’s shoes, you will be able to protect your sign better.
Security company Goldy Locks Inc details three types of thieves: the Lazy Thief, the Greedy Thief, and the Professional Thief. These three types are what their names say they are: lazy thieves are out for a quick, easy heist, and possibly also thrill-seeking; greedy thieves may stake out a house in a wealthy neighborhood and wait for an opportunity to pounce; and if a professional thief wants your valuables, we wish you the best of luck.
Yard sign thieves will almost always fall under the category of “lazy thief.” Thieves of political signs probably do not have experience pulling off elaborate heists. More importantly, if they are that passionate about politics, they probably do not want to get caught breaking the law. They see your sign and do not want it on your lawn anymore. That is all.
But removing a sign from your yard is still a crime. Stealing yard signs is illegal in all 50 states. This crime treads the line between trespassing and misdemeanor. According to FindLaw.com, these crimes can result in anywhere from 90 days to a year in jail and fines up to $1,000. Specific consequences vary heavily by state. Political signs are considered free speech under the First Amendment, but the charges of trespassing and misdemeanor have priority. In the worst cases, vandalism or the destruction of property may also come into play.
As an owner, you only have to think about making your sign as hard to steal and get away with as possible. The thieves will realize that any fine or jail time is not worth the cost of your sign and will fear getting caught above all else. All of these tips will make your sign harder to carry away or make your thieves run. We do not want any criminal charges when trying to prevent a crime.
Bigger Is Better
If you are afraid of your yard sign getting stolen, get as big a sign as you can safely manage. Political signs usually come in multiple sizes; if you are concerned that your sign might be too big, check your local laws. The larger a sign is, the harder it is to pick up and run away with. Once you realize your thief will try to make a quick getaway, a bigger sign makes sense.
Bring It Indoors
The logic here is simple: your house is safer than your lawn. A sign on the lawn might feel like open season, but a sign in your window is not. Breaking in would add more legal problems to the trespassing and misdemeanor mentioned earlier. As we stated, thieves will most likely avoid that trouble.
If you do not want to bring your sign indoors, keep it as close to your front door as possible. The proximity to your house can be a deterrent by itself. Many sign thieves will weigh the risks versus the rewards and not bother stealing a sign if it is close to your house.
If the sign is inside your house, it is unlikely that thieves will break in and steal it. The risk would greatly outweigh the reward. Sometimes the most obvious solutions are the best.
Tie/Mount Your Sign
Tying your sign into the ground requires a little bit of effort and hardware such as nails and string. Any thieves will have to come prepared to remove your sign. Rob’s Fixit Shop did a video about mounting political signs with rebar and zip ties. This setup will be much harder for a thief to deal with than the flimsy wires signs are usually packaged with.
If you want to be extra tricky, use fishing twine or another sort of invisible string to tie your sign to something nearby. The thief will not be prepared for this and will probably give up sooner rather than later.
Frame Your Sign
Another way to make your sign harder to steal is framing it. Not only does this make it heavier, but it makes it less flexible. Imagine lifting a piece of paper versus a framed image. As with tying your sign down, this will not stop all thieves, but the harder your sign is to move, the less likely that someone will steal it.
Have A Security Camera
Sometimes, the presence of a security camera can be enough to deter thieves. Remember, these people are usually not professionals, and the risk of stealing a sign often outweighs the reward. Make sure your camera is visible and people will be far less tempted to steal anything.
Many types of cameras can serve this purpose. One of the most effective is a motion-activated trail camera. The same cameras used to track furtive animals can catch humans in the act, and all you need is one shot to incriminate them. A shot of the license plate can be particularly damning. Your priority should be getting the thief off of your sign.
The weirdest part is that your security camera does not have to be on for this strategy to work. It just has to be in a place where thieves can see it. Likewise, fake security signs exist to ward off thieves. While you could use a decoy camera or fake signs, it is probably better to get a security camera that works—just in case the thief is not fooled.
Put Lights on Timers (or Motion Activation)
Most political sign thieves will be attempting their heists in the dead of night. They want you to be sleeping while they steal your sign. Imagine their shock when the lights suddenly turn on. They will think they are about to be caught!
There are many ways you can pull off this effect. One of the easiest ways is with motion-activated lights. Lights set to go on at random times can effective. The thief will not want to be seen, so any sign that you are awake can send them running.
ApartmentTherapy.com has a list of light switch timers here. Think about what would deter a thief the most and pick the right setup for you. Timed lights are also handy if you leave on vacation, so it’s a wise investment in many ways.
Build a Fence
Some people have had their yard signs stolen so frequently that they have seen fit to put up fences around them. These range from barbed wire to electrical fences. You do not need to get anything dangerous; depending on how determined your sign thieves are, mesh or chicken wire might be sufficient.
Make an Alarm
Many creative alarms have been attached to political signs. One Pennsylvania family in the Evening Sun not only had their signs stolen so frequently that they made elaborate plywood frames to make their sign harder to steal, but devised an alarm using a cowbell. This might be a good use for old jingle bells in your attic.
Another tweak to this idea is a recorded dog bark. If a thief hears a dog barking when they try to steal your sign, they may reconsider. People who know you well may know you do not have a dog, but anyone else may second guess their choice. Think about what you can do with the supplies in your own home to make an alarm that the thieves would not see coming.
If you are particularly tech-savvy, you can even DIY a security system using the versatile Raspberry Pi microcontroller board. To see what Raspberry Pi can do for your home, along with a few other ideas, please check this page on MakeUseOf.com. And if technology happens to be your specialty, use every trick that you can think of.
We saved the best option for last. Some people coat their signs in Vaseline to make them harder to carry away. Others have used glitter to mark the thieves instead—a good, harmless strategy if you suspect your neighbors. Barbed wire and thumbtacks have also been used to keep people from stealing signs. Some people have used pepper spray on their signs. Backyard bandits want a quick, easy getaway; anything that prevents that can be a deterrent. Think about what a thief would not want to deal with.
Note, however, that you do not want to hurt anybody. Before you do something like electrifying your sign, please check your local laws on that topic. The costs of getting caught outweigh the benefits when someone steals a yard sign; likewise, your yard sign is not worth jail time.
We understand that yard signs are a form of communication. It can be disheartening when one of your signs gets stolen. Stealing yard signs is a crime on multiple fronts; luckily, most political campaigns will replace them with a small fee at worst. But when this happens repeatedly, it can become grating. Consider cameras, timed lights, and other measures that will not get anyone hurt. Use everything you have. Although some thieves will not be deterred, sometimes a moment is all you need to catch them in the act.
We hope this guide has given you some ideas to protect your yard signs, political or otherwise. Remember that any backyard bandits prioritize getting in and out of your property quickly and easily. Think like a thief to catch one. Again, please reduce bodily harm to a minimum; it is not worth going to jail to stop people from stealing your yard sign. It is also probably not worth their time to swipe your sign in the first place. Make your argument of “get off my lawn” crystal clear.