Stealing stop signs a 'recipe for disaster'
"It's a recipe for disaster," Capt. Gary Groelle said. "It can be horrific."
Five stop signs have been stolen through July 2009, compared to two all of last year, he said.
No wrecks have resulted in the thefts, but the trend could lead to tragedy if two cars collided in an intersection traveling 55 mph, Groelle said.
People have been injured or killed in other areas because of missing stop signs.
Sign theft is not a new crime, but stealing stop signs is more alarming than stealing signs that mark the speed limit or curves in the road, he said.
More stop sign thefts have been reported in recent months, possibly because it's summertime, Groelle said.
The signs have been stolen in different parts of rural Rock County, and the perpetrators are likely kids stealing signs for a souvenir or thrill, he said.
"I think it's individuals not realizing fully the damage that can be done," Groelle said. "I think it may be the thrill."
Anyone caught stealing stop signs could be charged with theft, criminal damage to property or felony recklessly endangering safety, he said. It depends on the nature of the crime.
"It is a very serious offense, and we take it very seriously, and we'd like people to report it," Groelle said.
When the sheriff's office learns of a missing sign, a deputy controls the intersection until a portable stop sign can be placed, he said. The sheriff's office has several portable stop signs.
The Rock County Public Works Highway Division is notified when a new sign is needed, said Mike Turk, shop superintendent.
The shop has new signs ready to go, he said, and people are on call 24 hours a day to replace signs.
"It's a major priority," Turk said. "It becomes deadly."
The rough cost to replace a sign is $100, including materials, labor to create the sign and labor to install the sign, Turk said.
About three or four stop signs need to be repaired or replaced every month due to theft or damage from traffic accidents, he said.