Photo by Erma HarrisTwenty mailboxes and road signs were stolen and discarded in the middle of a gravel road in Salem May 30. This is a reoccurring problem for law enforcement authorities and emergency personnel who rely on signs and mailboxes when responding to an emergency.
Trouble got off to an early start in Salem last Wednesday morning.
May 30 around 6:30 a.m., a combination of vandalized 9-1-1 county road signs, mail boxes, yard sale signs and empty and broken beer bottles were found piled in the middle of Young Road located off state Highway 62/412 in Salem.
When officers arrived they found 20 signs that had been installed within the prior week, removed from their designated posts along with 10 mailboxes belonging to individuals who live along Young Road and the surrounding area.
"This is a continuing problem. Something must be done," said Fulton County Judge Charles Willett.
"Even though it's ongoing, this time was just a little more malicious," said Salem Police Chief Albert Roork.
Road sign theft is nothing new in Fulton County; the problem has plagued the county since they were first implemented in Spring 2000 at a cost of $26,000.
County 9-1-1 coordinator David Keck said the signs are an important factor in maintaining the area's safety.
The vandalism and theft of county road signs is an issue because of the purpose they serve. When they go missing, it weakens the efficiency of the county's first responders, fire fighters and ambulance services. "There's just not no excuse (for destroying road signs), but I?don't know if the kids or whoever does this realizes these (signs) could be life or death for someone," said Sheriff Walter Dillinger.
In their first year alone, over 370 of the signs had to be replaced because they were stolen or destroyed, said Keck.
The problem has only escalated.
In 2005 and 2006 about $20,000 per year was spent to repair and replace signs. According to Willett, the county is well on its way to beating that amount in 2007.
Keck said he quickly realized it would be a definite challenge to keep signs when they were originally dispersed throughout the county. Soon after the 9-1-1 signs were put around the county, Keck began to think of ways to reduce vandalism.
In 2001, Fulton County, which initially used signs made of fiberglass, began using studier metal signs.
In 2006, the Fulton County Quorum Court discussed assigning numbers instead of names to county roads. No further action has been taken.
According to Salem Police Chief Albert Roork, what people don't think about is that road sign theft, as well as any form of vandalism, is not just a way to taunt law enforcement; it is also a personal burden to those who it effects. "This is not just an expensive vandalism ... the people doing this are plain ignorant -- it's a waste of their tax dollars," he said. "And one of those mailboxes laying there belongs to a man who has cancer. When they affect someone who can't physically or financially go and replace it -- that's when I take it personally."
Roork said in the past when mailboxes were damaged, the county handled the punishment on the state level, charging the individual with criminal mischief; however, tampering with the U.S. Postal Service is a federal offense. "We might just make an example out of someone this time," Roork said.
For someone who is caught causing damage, there is a $1,000-fine per sign.
There is a $3,000 reward for anyone who can provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for stealing and vandalizing road signs.
To report locations where signs are missing, call the 9-1-1 office at 895-2237 or the Fulton County Judge's Office at 895-3341.