Seattle’s primary election is just weeks away, and campaign signs are sprouting in people’s yards. With so much at stake in this election, you can bet some of those yard signs will get stolen.
That’s what happened to Lauris Bitners. He lives in a fancy neighborhood on North Capitol Hill. It’s not exactly ground zero for the debate on rent control. Bitners jokingly describes his neighborhood as “a bastion of white affluence.”
But Bitners was at this fund-raiser thrown by a friend, and City Councilmember Kshama Sawant was there. Bitners decided he liked her. So he put one of her campaign signs up in front of his house. It lasted less than a week.
“To my chagrin,” said Bitners, “I found the sign missing and the little metal ladder that supports it thrown into my bushes.”
Seattle police say that kind of crime has been uncommon so far in this campaign. But it is a crime, says Lauren Lovenhill of the Seattle Police Department.
“Stealing somebody’s sign would be a theft. And if the sign is worth under $750 it would be a misdemeanor,” Lovenhill said. “And then defacing it, graffitiing it, something like that would be property destruction and also a misdemeanor.”
Sign theft is an old problem political campaigns. Philip Locker, who is managing his third Sawant campaign, claims thefts this year are the worst he’s ever seen. In the primary, Sawant faces four challengers for her seat in Seattle's new council District 3.
But the thieves rarely get caught, because they seldom leave evidence. But Bitners has a plan. He replaced his sign, and this time, he put a post-it-note on top. It says “Smile, you’re on surveillance cam.” There’s a GoPro camera sitting in his front window.
"So far the sign is still here,” he said triumphantly.
If Bitners catches someone, he has a few options. He can call 911 to report a theft in progress. If he catches the theft later, he can file a report online, or phone it into the non-emergency police number.
Lovenhill of the Seattle police says each precinct reviews its reports, looking for patterns, which influence how to allocate resources. And yes, she says the police welcome surveillance tape.