Though they are illegal, Philadelphia has at least 20,000 bandit signs, according to anti-blight coalition The Bandit Project. The cheap corrugated plastic posters affixed to utility poles and streetlights generally advertise a predatory service and can be seen at the majority of busy city intersections.
The phone number associated with merely one sign spotted in Northeast Philadelphia offering cash for "junk cars" appears 150 times in The Bandit Project's user-generated database of offenders. A man who answered the phone declined to comment.
Brian Abernathy of the Managing Director's Office said that "not many" of the perpetrators were fined the applicable $75-per-sign fee last year due to a lack of manpower within both agencies responsible for the citations' enforcement: L&I and the Streets Department.
But Abernathy and other officials from Mayor Michael Nutter's administration are looking to change that this spring by targeting both the signs and those who put them up as part of a new enforcement strategy.
Starting in April, L&I and cleanup workers who visit a location will also conduct "sign sweeps" of the surrounding block. Residents will be able to send in signs and identifying information to a single point of contact, rather than dealing with circuitous phone calls to L&I and the Streets Department. "We will ask for their help because we realize we don't have the resources to do it ourselves," Abernathy said. "But that won’t work unless we have enforcement behind them."
Inspired by L&I's initiative dealing with absentee landlords
without active addresses on file, the city will also partner with an
independent firm to fund a team of interns that will attempt to track
down the sign posters, Abernathy said. He expects to
reveal the partner in a more comprehensive announcement next month.
Residents say they are pleased to hear about the efforts. "We’ve been advocating for enforcement of the existing laws quite for some time now. I'm a firm believer that's the correct strategy," Henry Pyatt of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation said.
Currently, bandit signs in the neighborhood's commercial corridor are removed by two sanitation workers armed with floor tile scrapers and funded by a Department of Commerce grant, Pyatt said.
"I can tell you these signs proliferate very rapidly – it tends to happen all at once overnight in a neighborhood. One or two guys get hired for $80 to $100 a day and march around stapling signs to poles," he said. "These signs really make a neighborhood look like crap, and when a neighborhood looks like crap, it gets treated like crap."