Morning Poll: Citizen Sign Cops?

by ARLnow.com November 22, 2011 at 9:30 am 2,828 89 Comments

The Sun Gazette reports this morning that the County Board has discussed the idea of training and empowering citizens to enforce sign laws in Arlington by spotting and reporting violations to county staff.

Proponents for citizen sign enforcement have spoken up during past Board meetings, but with little to show for it. Now, however, with the county advertising proposed changes to its sign ordinance, three out of five Board members seem willing to seriously consider the idea.

One argument against the idea is the conflict it could create between business owners and the citizen sign enforcers.

Should citizens be deputized to be the “eyes and ears” of county code enforcement?

  • Empower me. I’ll gladly take bribes not to fine you. I don’t want money, but a little extra pickle on my sandwich would be nice.

    Enforce your own dumb laws.

    • JamesE

      I think they should get special uniforms with red arm bands as they go about enforcing those terrible signs.

  • JamesE

    Words cannot describe how stupid of an idea this is.

    • Arlington Native


  • CrystalMikey

    Sign snitches?

    • JamesE

      No sign for you!! Come back, ONE YEAR!!!

  • novasteve

    Can I get one of those German police whistles they have in all of those WW2 movies when the gestapo are chasing someone on the street?

  • ArLater

    Really? This is what is being discussed at these meetings?! Its a freakin sign, why dont they use their time to items that maybe carry alittle more weight? Such a joke. Next is going to be a debate over what they should eat for lunch that day

  • outoftowner

    “our rules are so stupid, even we don’t want to enforce them”

  • Quoth the Raven

    I think it’s a great idea. Let’s empower the sign police to make citizen’s arrests, too, so that if they find an evil sign violator, they can handcuff that person and haul them in. Let’s also arm them with pepper spray, and perhaps clubs.

  • Skeptical

    It seems to me that if a given sign is creating a problem, people will report it without being trained at taxpayer expense to do so. And if it isn’t a problem, why make it into one?

  • Newtdog73

    Can we start with that horrible blue tarp at the Shirlington Dog park. It’s only been an eye-sore for a couple years now?

  • ICBMGuy

    So what happens to these Sign violators??? Do they have to wear a big “S” on their chest??? I think someone already has a patent on that.

  • MC 703

    The Upright Citizen Sign Brigade should wear 2’x3′ sandwich board badges

    • Bluemontsince1961


    • BlueSkies

      The Upright Citizen Sign Brigade? Or Uptight Citizen Sign Brigade? Hooray for the sandwich board idea.

      I can’t believe they’re wasting time on this. Arlington must really be doing well if that’s such high priority.

  • ArlingtonCountyTaxpayer

    do i get a rebate on my taxes if I do this. because, like, i pay taxes so the government can do their job enforcing laws..

    oh, and every time I have called zoning about a violation in my neighborhood (which isn’t 22201), NOTHING happens.

  • ArlingtonCountyTaxpayer

    I’d much rather do HOV enforcement if we are going to be asked to do things.

    and strip searches. Can we do those again like they did on the METRO for eating food? I’ve seen some people on the METRO that look like they could really use a strip search. from me.

  • Bluemontsince1961

    Huh? Seriously!?!?!?!?!?!?!? They must be smoking some mighty potent weed over at the Board. Could end up with some real citizen snitches/prigs vs. business owners rhubarbs. I suppose they’ll have the “sign deputies” with tape measures to see if a sign is a fraction over whatever limit. Let the Board have the police enforce their own laws, that’s why our taxes go to pay the police.

    • Not criminal

      The police deal with criminal matters, and signs do not fall under that category. Code enforcement deals with this, not the police.

      • Lou

        The Arlington police enforce food cart licensing. Some would argue that falls more into the code enforcement realm than the crime fighting realm.

      • Suburban Not Urban

        And code enforcement wraps up at 5PM when most of the violations will start, they haven’t figured out how to stagger the shifts to actually have people around(without OT) when 1/2 the rules the board approves apply.

    • They have to smoke their weed in the Board Room now because they’ve asked the citizens not to smoke in parks anymore.

      • Bluemontsince1961

        LOL! Post of the day, Overgrown Bush!

  • othersideoftheriver

    How about we can just remove condo signs and campaign signs (I’m pointing at you, Clements, Hope, Favola, and Tejada) with impunity?

    • Bluemontsince1961


  • Joe

    We have far too many busybodies in Arlington as it is. Last thing we need is petty tyrants harassing business owners trying to reach consumers.

    • Bluemontsince1961


      “We have far too many busybodies in Arlington as it is.”

      Sentence of the day.

    • No doubt. +10.

  • creep


  • NoVapologist

    How about putting it under the purview of parking enforcement? Those guys are hands down the most diligent and efficient arm of the county government.

    • Bluemontsince1961

      Hmmmm… Advanced Towing for Signs?!?! Advanced would have those signs removed before the business owner was back behind the counter.

      • They’d have it lifted before all four legs of the sign touched the ground. Poachers.

        • Bluemontsince1961


  • Old News

    “and reporting violations to county staff”

    Citizen already can, and do, report code violations to county staff, so this seems like nothing new.

  • John Fontain

    I don’t think this is a bad idea. If all it amounts to is facilitating reporting of potential violations to county staff for further investigation, then this is a great tool that would save tax dollars by reducing the cost of enforcement.

    I’m surprised to see so many people opposed to an idea that would save us taxes.

    • I’m going to walk by your house and call the county because your lawn isn’t cut. How’s that for efficient government?

      • Lou

        With winter just around the corner, let’s not forget the handy County tool for ratting out your neighbor for not shoveling their walk.

        • Indeed!

        • drax

          It’s not like that’s a safety issue or anything.

          • Blair

            Does snow make you fall down go boom?

      • JimPB

        Overgrown Bush —

        What is the ArlCo law about the height of “grass” in yards?

        I know of another jurisdiction that has a law prohibiting “grass” growth higher than 36 inches. Neighbors (and other citizens) can and do report violations to the authorities.


        RE: the immediate issue.

        Is the objection the law? If so, focus on that.

        Is the objection to citizens reporting violations of the law? If so, would you prohibit citizens reporting any and all law violations?

        • Chapter 10, Arlington County Code Condition of Private Property Ordinance (COPP).

          10-13.b: Grass exceeding 12 inches on occupied property.

          • RoonHeimer

            So, bamboo is out? Hallelujah! The most pernicious invasive species and I can report neighbors for growing it (every damned day since it grows that fast)?

        • John Fontain

          JimPB – You are oozing logic.

          • You both miss my point. Your neighbor calling about high grass in your yard is one thing. But, do you want some busy-body citizen with a notepad and an agenda taking note of your high blades and reporting you? It sounds more like a police state. If the county wants a sign ordnance, then they should enforce it or rely upon someone reporting it when it becomes a problem. Why empower every day citizens and give them an agenda? It sounds more like a homeowner’s association than a government.

          • Bluemontsince1961

            Exactly, Overgrown Bush.

          • John Fontain

            What is more likely:

            a. masses of residents signing up and continually monitoring and reporting false violations; or

            b. random people occassionally noticing apparent violations and having a place to call and let someone know about them.

            “If the county wants a sign ordnance, then they should enforce it or rely upon someone reporting it when it becomes a problem.”

            It sounds to me like that is what the county is trying to do – give people the ability to report violations rather than have a crew of dedicated county staffers running up the payroll.

            And the bottom line is this – if a business isn’t violating the rules, they will have nothing to worry about.

          • No. Citizens can currently report any violation. They are trying to solicit people to enforce. One is passive, the other is not.

          • John Fontain

            Overgrown Bush,

            So to summarize, you are against the county government encouraging its citizens to report violations of county regulations.

          • JF, did you read the text in the article?

            “the County Board has discussed the idea of training and empowering citizens to enforce sign laws”

            To summarize, if a citizen sees an issue that bothers him/her, report it. I am not in support of spending tax money “training and empowering” citizens to enforce sign laws! How is that so difficult to understand?

          • Frank

            There is already a busybody doing that in Shirlington – and it’s nothing but a pain for the County and for the businesses. Most of the time, it’s something SO critical like a planter an inch closer to the street than it was the day before. Technically, yes, it’s a violation, but the taxpayer money spent to send someone out to look at the planter, then do the paperwork to tell the business to move the planter, then come back to make sure it was done, seems like a waste of money to me!

            All we need is more of those people to waste everyone’s time and money –

  • JimPB

    At its essence, how is this different from citizens reporting other law violations?

    • Plunkitt of Clarendon Blvd

      It is all a matter of degree and common sense.
      I, for one, would distinguish between say a murder and a sandwich board, but that is just me !!
      (That of course ignores the situation where a person is committing murder with a sandwich board, but that it pretty rare even in Clarendon on a Friday night).

      • Richard Cranium

        Hey! I was going to put an image here of the WWF Panda Wrestling shirt – no more image uploading?? Man, I pay good money to use this website and this is all I get???

        Oh . . . wait, what?? Sorry . . . nevermind.

  • DarkHeart

    The only sidewalk signs that should be allowed are obelisk shaped and are spun around by a guy wearing Dr. Dre’s Beats headphones.

  • SomeGuy

    Board embraces the “idea of training and empowering” citizens to snitch on each other when it comes to business signage.

    However, board fights vehemently against the “idea of training and empowering” (actually prefers forbidding) its own police officers to follow federal immigration law by “reporting violations” after an arrest of an illegal alien, per the Secure Communities program.

    I can see both sides of these arguments. I guess I’d just wonder how they reconcile the two positions.

    • Josh S

      Because the “idea of training and empowering” depends on what is being trained and empowered?

      I embrace the idea of training and empowering people to, I don’t know, learn how to cook.

      I do not embrace the idea of training and empowering people to beat me upside the head with a stick.

      I don’t think it’s very dificult to reconcile those two things.

      Was there some other point you were trying to make?

      • SomeGuy

        Well, in your example, you’ve chosen to use assault/battery as something you don’t want to train people to do. Somehow following federal immigration law doesn’t seem directly analogous to endorsing assault and battery on you. But okay.

        One of the reasons cited for why the County opposes Secure Communities is that it reduces cooperation of a community of people who feel they can be more or less snitched upon by elevating their profile at all in the community because they’re not adhering to the letter of the law. Yet here’s the county inventing a snitching program designed to more effectively punish businesses that attempt to elevate their profile in ways that don’t conform to the exact letter of the law. Can you see any similarities there?

        Also, you might notice in this response that I never said I’d oppose anyone being empowered to beat you, Josh S, upside the head with a stick.

        • Josh S

          Hey, SomeGuy – stay classy, man.

          • SomeGuy

            I always do.

  • RoonHeimer

    I’ll be happy to allow citizen enforcement if I am thrown the following puppy: instead of one weekend day a year, shut down the Wilson/Clarendon corridor throughout the Clarendon area to pedestrians only, every weekend and every holiday, while allowing the food service providers to put seats out on the sidewalks (the streets are clear for pedestrians except where…), allow artisans to set up stalls/kiosks/tables to sell their wares, have a children’s theater ready to go for the little ones, etc. Many, many European cities do this for their residents and they are a huge economic draw.

    • Rick

      Yes lets all take economics advice from the Europeans. Tell that to my scottrade broker.

      • RoonHeimer

        Yes, please feel free to be provincial and introduce your pin-headed politics where they have no place. I’m talking closing down a few blocks in city center to encourage economic activity in our own locality not introducing the EU model on the US; although, they do a number of things economy-wide better than us but that’s a series of comments for another post.

        • Burger

          I’d wager most local business would rather have the turnover than allow you the ability to sit there for hours watching people pass by as you sip 1 drink.

        • Rick

          As someone who has a large head, your comment does not offend me. However I am not happy with your tone.

          Closing Wilson every weekend and you’re calling ME the pinhead…

    • Josh S

      What is the current status of NYC’s experiment with closing Times Square to traffic? Are they doing that every weekend? Or is it more sporadic than that?

      In any case, yes, this is a fabulous idea. I submit that housing prices would increase even further in the area should this become reality.

    • Swag

      There’s no way that this could possibly end up as a massive clusterf*ck.

  • PikerGirl

    Are those people on the sidewalks spinning signs regulated? They are a real distraction when driving- safety hazard!

  • Swag

    The type of people who would sign up for this are the exact kind of people that you never want to give any kind of authority to.

    They’d be bigger dicks than novasteve.

    • Bluemontsince1961

      “The type of people who would sign up for this are the exact kind of people that you never want to give any kind of authority to.”

      Amen, Swag.

      • Thes

        This same reasoning is, by the way, the reason we should give higher salaries to police officers and Members of Congress than we do. We don’t want people who are in it for the power trip.

        • Bluemontsince1961

          I have no problem with higher salaries for police officers/fire fighters/paramedics.

          Members of Congress……IMHO get way, way, way too much money for what most of them are worth (that applies to BOTH parties).

        • Swag

          Yeah, they should be in it for the money instead.

          Cops and Congress need higher standards of admittance before we start talking about higher salaries.

          • Thes

            Chicken: meet egg.

  • YTK

    Oh For G-d’s sake!! Cut the shop owners some slack!! Or have the Puritans landed here and taken over the County????

    • Bluemontsince1961

      “…have the Puritans landed here and taken over the County????”

      Seems that way sometimes.

      It seems these days that both political parties have their own versions of the busybody, domineering, control-freak, buttinsky, can’t bear the thought that somewhere, someplace, somebody is somehow not under their personal control and is somehow having fun and enjoying life.

      One version wants to control what everybody believes/doesn’t believe in their heart of hearts and what consenting adults 21 and older do or don’t do with their privates behind closed doors. The other version wants to control what everybody eats, drinks, smokes/doesn’t smoke, what type of sign, what type of car is acceptable, etc.

      Both versions seem intent on making themselves and everyone around them totally miserable.

      • John Fontain

        I think you are missing the big picture. Your reference to the government wanting to control everything is ironic in this case given that:


        Sandwich board signs aren’t allowed at all.

        In the Future:

        They will be allowed, so long as rules are followed.

        In essence, the government is being less controlling overall but you are complaining about it.

    • drax

      Yeah, they landed in 1620. You didn’t know?

  • mickey644

    Make sure we issue brown shirts, jack boots, and swatsika armbands! What will the County fools think of next to take away more freedom? Let’s get back to banning kids from dog parks! Let’s talk about the fact they have to publish a brochure on the County parking meter and sticker system!

  • jim

    This must be either Zimmerman’s idea or Tejada’s idea, right? Will these “citizen police” be armed? Will they have handcuffs? Do they get police cars? ROFLMFAO! What morons………………………

  • theaxman

    Love the picture of rays steak and cheese – so delicious!

    Citizen enforcers, Arlington board? Are you taking crazy pills? No pun intended, but shouldn’t this be a sign that it’s worthless law? Why don’t you go down to Ray’s Steak and Cheese (which is, again, very delicious) yourself and force them to take the sign down? Or better yet, do something worthwhile with your time and our tax dollars.

  • Overgrown Balls

    Can I just kick the sign in through the door?


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