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Magic markers: Potter vandals target Tosa stop signs

July 14, 2009

Harry Potter fans may call it a unique movie advertising campaign, but the Wauwatosa Police Department calls it vandalism.

The word "Voldemort" has been written in permanent marker on 50 to 75 stop signs throughout the city, Patrol Specialist Paul Leist said. Take a step back and look at the entire sign, and the message becomes "Stop Voldemort," a nod to the villain in the novels and movies that have millions of fans worldwide.

The latest film, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," premieres in cinemas at midnight.

While the marked signs might put a smile on a Muggle's face, police officers and public works staff are getting tired of cleaning off the ink. In fact, cleaning chemicals have damaged some stop signs' finish, which will mean they will need to be replaced at a cost of $80 each, Leist said.

"Is it the crime of the century? No," Leist said. "But the problem is it's starting to add up."

The Wauwatosa vandals were not the brains behind the campaign. An Internet search shows countless Web sites, Facebook pages and YouTube videos showing Voldemort-marked stop signs from Philadelphia to England.

Wauwatosa Crime Stoppers is offering a cash reward for tips that lead to an arrest in these crimes. Anyone with information should call (414) 771-TOSA.

Meanwhile, Leist recommends that residents keep their eyes open and call police if they see people loitering around or drawing on stop signs. At some of the intersections affected, only one sign is marked, whereas in other areas of the city all four signs have been tagged, a crime that would take a little time to complete.

Officers started noticing the vandalism a week ago.

"You couldn't find a more important sign to vandalize. It's imperative people can read a stop sign," Leist said. "We'd like to see this come to an end.

"Besides," he added, "we've got more important things to attend to."

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