The St. Paul Police Department posted a warning about street light outages due to wire thefts. According to the post, “wire has been stolen within hours of repair” and the city is unable to keep up.
On the website for the city of St. Paul, it designated a specific page to streetlights and how to report broken ones. According to the website, St. Paul utilizes LED lights on the city’s “more than 37,000 light fixtures on 32,000 light poles.”
The thieves stealing the wires and causing the outages are believed to work in groups and are “often organized and coordinated with people even wearing vests and putting out cones.” The city asked that residents be aware, and to report any “workers” to the police if an official city of St. Paul vehicle is not present.
The city of St. Paul Public Works spokeswoman Lisa Hiebert told The Minnesota Sun that the city is also asking businesses and residents have Ring doorbells and security cameras pointed toward the street, to watch out for any street lights that are broken or out, and look at some of that footage to see if they captured any footage of anyone “working” on those lights. Hiebert said that any evidence discovered should be reported to the St. Paul Police Department through their non-emergency number at 651-291-1111.
Hiebert said the city believes the draw for thieves is the copper wire found in the street lights. The price of copper has nearly doubled in the last two years and currently sells at around $4.43 per pound.
She continued, saying that while she does not know what gauge the wires are, she does know that the thieves steal wires from many different types of fixtures.
Hiebert explained that the thefts are from all different types of fixtures.
“Depending on the type of roadway there is a different fixture,” she said. “It’s not just in a neighborhood here and there, it’s throughout St. Paul. It’s happening on quiet residential streets and large major thoroughfares.”
Hiebert said public works, who is in charge of maintaining the lights, is working with other city departments including the police department to come up with solutions and deterrents to theft. The city has also warned local buyers of copper wire and scrap metals not to purchase any that looks like it could have come from street lights.
She said, “We have done different things with bases, like welding or banding to make it harder to get in. It really hasn’t worked. They just break the whole box and then it causes more damage to the entire fixture and the system.” Hiebert explained that the city has also been “energizing” or “daylighting” some roads, which means lights are left on throughout the daylight hours, which keeps the electricity flowing through the wires, acting as a slight deterrent.
The 2021 wire theft is costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars and is almost three times more than in 2020. Hiebert said that for 2021, the city estimated that the cost of the streetlight wire theft is about $295,000, which includes labor, materials, and equipment necessary to complete rewiring. In 2020 it was only estimated to be around $105,000.
Hiebert said wire theft affects hundreds of residents, businesses, commuters and impacts public safety.
“It’s something we’re taking seriously,” she told The Sun.
Hiebert said residents can help by reporting light outages to St. Paul Public Works Traffic Operations Division at 651-266-9777 and by reporting any suspicious activity to the police.
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