Mar 21, 2024 - News

St. Paul seeks to combat spike in copper wire theft

map of st paul with many red dots throughout showing reports of wire theft

Image courtesy of St. Paul Public Works

St. Paul spent about $1.2 million to fix or replace stolen copper wires in 2023 β€” more than four times the city's 2019 costs.

Why it matters: A spike in people stripping the wires from street lamps so they can sell the metal for cash is leaving streets and parks across the metro in the dark.

  • In February, 2,000 street lights in St. Paul parks were disabled due to theft.

By the numbers: The amount of wire typically stolen from a street lamp can be sold to scrap yards and other buyers for about $50. But fixing that post sets the city back $1,000 or more, KARE 11 reports.

Between the lines: The sheer number of wired fixtures β€” there are more than 40,000 streetlights across the city β€” makes it hard to catch thieves in the act, St. Paul Police deputy chief Kurt Hallstrom said at a community meeting this week.

  • Traffic signals, EV charging stations, and HVAC systems are also frequent targets.

Yes, but: SPPD has made some gains, with 19 people charged this year, says KARE 11. That's up from just two in 2022.

  • People arrested for the crime elsewhere in the metro in recent months have faced charges that could result in fines of up to $16,000 and up to eight years in jail.

What we're watching: St. Paul is taking steps to make the wires harder to steal, including installing new panels, adding security bolts and labeling the wires as city property, per a fact sheet released by the city.

  • State legislators are also weighing a bill to crack down on illegal trade by requiring licenses the seller and the buyer obtain a state-issued license. Free recycling would still be available for residents.

What to do: Residents can use this online form to report lights in need of repair.

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