More than 40 miles of copper wire have been stolen from city streetlights in the past few months, costing taxpayers nearly a quarter million dollars.
Thursday, Fresno city officials asked the public to help stop the thieves by calling 911 if they see any suspicious activity or witness a theft in progress.
"We take this crime very seriously," Fresno police Capt. Keith Foster said at a news conference Thursday in northwest Fresno.
Officials said the city started noticing an increase in the problem in the spring when copper wire prices began to soar.
Dave Row, a streets supervisor with the public works department, said copper is currently selling for $3 to $4 a pound.
City Engineer Mike Kirn said the amount of copper stolen between two streetlights can easily weigh in at 60 to 80 pounds.
So far about 750 streetlights have been affected, said Amber Adams, streets manager for the city's public works department.
The wire is taken from underground electrical installations. Kirn said the thieves open a box at the base of a light pole, cut one end of the wire and pull.
The news conference was held at Figarden and Alva drives in northwest Fresno, which is Council Member Brian Calhoun's district, but officials said the thefts are occurring all over the city.
"This, however, is a significant area," Adams said, pointing to the row of streetlights that line both sides of Figarden Drive.
Calhoun said the thefts mean neighborhoods go dark and pose a concern for public safety. He also said the thefts have created a problem with the sprinkler system in his district, which provides water to the city's landscaping.
The system, he said, is linked to the same electrical wiring that feeds the streetlights.
Foster said the Police Department has made a number of arrests in connection with copper thefts and that investigators are working with the Fresno County Ag Task Force, which has seen an increase in copper thefts from farms.
He said officers are going undercover and following up on leads provided by local scrap metal business owners, where some of the stolen copper wire has been sold.
Foster said the increase in copper wire theft is a nationwide trend and many agencies are joining forces to try to get a better handle on the problem.
In an attempt to prevent some of the thefts, Row said, workers are retooling the electrical boxes with special locks and screws.
Found at fresnobee.com