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Sign theft can lead to serious criminal charges
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In Colorado, officials said they had to deal with a spike in thefts as residents hijacked “420” mile markers to repurpose in their homes.

The term “420” is a signifier of cannabis culture, often celebrated by marijuana enthusiasts April 20.

With their purpose and display accessible to the public eyes — and hands — sometimes signs are reappropriated locally as well.

Hall’s Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard warned that signage theft has implications in court.

What determines whether a theft is a misdemeanor or a felony is the value of the sign, she said.

“Neon signs are much more expensive than people think, and it’s $1,500 threshold for theft from misdemeanor to felony,” she said.

Generally, Woodard said the crime is a misdemeanor involving a non-custodial sentence.

“Punishment is normally community service, and whatever evaluation if it’s a theft-impulse control issue,” she said.

“There are also classes that focus on adolescent, bad behavior type of impulses. What you think is funny in the moment, that really is a bad decision.”

And reparations for the victim, be it a bar owner or state of Georgia, are also a part of the equation.

“The focus is on making the business owner whole — repairing the sign if it’s been broken,” she said.

When it comes to official signage, street signs most often are the type that go missing.

“Those are the most common. The road signs come and go in cycles. You may see those around graduation, homecoming. Teenagers are out and being mischievous,” Woodard said.

With teens, it’s not uncommon for guilty parties’ parents to compel kids to admit their folly, Woodard said.

Perhaps ironically though, many cases have involved adult men who have often taken mind-altering substances, like in Colorado.

Gainesville Police spokesman Cpl. Joe Britte said stealing official signage is both childish and potentially dangerous.

“That has the potential to be dangerous because of the traffic implications,” he said.

Such a tampering could also impede emergency vehicles’ ability to respond, Woodard said.

Britte said road signs, made from heavy, construction-grade, weather-resistant materials, sometimes might be taken with a goal for profit.

“Our hope would be of course that any person would be wary of purchasing those materials,” he said.

Woodard said in addition to typical charges like theft or criminal damage to property, offenders can be levied with an interference with government property charge.

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