The thieves strike in the middle of the night and work fast, in pairs or teams. They can make an entire neighborhood go dark in minutes. They screw open the street light maintenance boxes, find the copper wires and cut. Zip, zip.
While police nab copper thieves in the act, they can’t be everywhere. Come nighttime, some streets are as black as caves. Even if thieves stopped today, utility crews would need up to a year to fix all the damage. Meanwhile, darkened neighborhoods entice crooks bent on robbing houses, stealing cars or worse.
Lately, thieves have taken and created bigger risks, stealing copper from the lights, signs and metering signals on freeways that rim the city. Caltrans, the state agency in charge of the roads, has had to divert workers from fixing potholes, guardrails and fencing to repair damaged lights before some horrible accident happens. They too, cannot keep up with the copper thieves, who are striking several times a week.
As if Fresno, one of the poorest cities in the country, didn’t have enough problems, what with high unemployment and rampant gangs, crime and methamphetamine abuse. Now, the city of 509,000 in the heart of California’s Central Valley farm country is the epicenter of a plague of copper wire theft afflicting recession-ravaged cities across the country.
“We think we’re a year from having all the lights back,” said Lee Brand, a Fresno City Councilman who devised a plan to thwart thieves by having public works crews entomb the copper wire in over 20,000 maintenance boxes in quick-dry cement. But, he added, “There are a lot of desperate people out there.”AlterNet
Desperate People Ripping Off Copper in One of Our Poorest Cities