New tactics lessen traffic sign vandalism

Published on Tuesday, 14 January 2014 22:34 - Written by ADAM RUSSELL

Smith County curtailed sign vandalisms around the county during the past two years, according to a report released Tuesday.

The efforts saved the county almost $20,000 with tools that cost only a few hundred dollars.

The secret is in surveillance, County Judge Joel Baker said. But he’s keeping the surveillance tool a secret to stay ahead of would-be vandals.

“I could tell you how we’re doing it but you couldn’t print it,” he said. “It’s a low-cost solution that seems to be working.”

Each replaced sign requires man hours and tax dollars.

Stolen signs, graffiti and bullet holes were all problems. They still are but not compared to two years ago.

Sign vandalism was costing the county $1,500 to $2,000 every two weeks when Road Administrator Doug Nicholson alerted commissioners of the escalating problem in early 2011. Replacing signs was a constant agitation and cost, Nicholson said.

Vandals struck 409 times that year at a cost of $29,984, not counting man-hours, to replace signs. Incidents reduced in 2012 after commissioners purchased cameras to watch over problem areas. The county’s environmental crimes officers would put out game-tracker style cameras in random hot spots and check for criminal activity.

They continue to monitor areas via camera but began using other tools. The county spent a few hundred dollars to save thousands, Baker said.

The total cost of vandalized signs for 2013 was $10,066, Nicholson said in his final 2013 report.

It is a misdemeanor offense to “alter, deface, injure, knock down, or remove” traffic signs, according to the Texas Transportation Code.

Environmental Crimes Officer Tommy Goodman said vandals know they are watching, but they don’t know when, where or how in most instances.

“I think it got out that we have been watching,” he said. “That’s a deterrent itself.”