By Edwin Folven, 12/20/2012
Thefts have cost the city approximately $630,000
Copper wire theft from streetlights has become so prevalent in the local area that Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, 4th District, is calling for a $25,000 reward for information leading to arrests.
LaBonge authored a motion for the reward on Dec. 14, and the city council will review the issue when it returns from recess at the beginning of January. Thieves break into streetlights to steal copper wire throughout the city, but the problem has particularly plagued the Miracle Mile and Hancock Park neighborhoods. The thieves steal the wire to recycle it as scrap metal. Repairs cost the city approximately $630,000 in fiscal year 2010-11 according to the Los Angeles Deptartment of Public Works.
“When someone steals from this city, they steal from all Angelenos,” LaBonge said. “We need to create a financial incentive in the other direction.”
Lt. J. Oka, with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division, said the copper wire thefts occur frequently, and it is difficult to catch a perpetrator because residents or city crews don’t immediately realize the theft has occurred. The thieves generally break into a hatch on the streetlight and pull the wire out. Sometimes it causes multiple streetlights to go out, plunging entire neighborhoods into darkness.
“It’s a pretty under-reported crime, and we are trying to get a handle on it,” Oka said. “Hopefully a reward will provide an incentive for more people to come forward.”
Copper wire thieves also struck in the Hancock Park area in October, when wire was stolen from approximately 60 streetlights on June Street, from 6th Street to Beverly Boulevard, and on Muirfield Road near 5th and 6th streets. Last December, thieves struck in the Miracle Mile area on Ridgeley Drive, and Burnside and Dunsmuir avenues, leaving the power out to streetlights for several days.
“On my street, the lights went out around this time last year. It was on Masselin, north of Wilshire,” Miracle Mile Residential Association president Jim O’Sullivan said. “A couple of months ago, there were lights out south of Wilshire, on Dunsmuir. We did have quite a few problems. It gets very dark in the neighborhood, especially in the winter when it gets dark early. More than anything, it is a safety issue.”
Oka requested that residents remain vigilant about suspicious workers or vehicles in their neighborhoods, especially at night. City crews rarely work at night. Their vehicles are also clearly marked, and all workers are required to present identification upon request. Oka said because the thieves often break into the streetlights at night, nobody realizes the streetlights are out until the following night when they don’t come back on. He said to call 911 if the thieves are observed in the act.
“The key is to call right away, not after it occurs. Get a license number of a vehicle and get a suspect description.” Oka said. “Also, once the officers get there and you see them detain somebody, follow up and let us know we have the right suspects. It can be hard to catch them otherwise.”
LaBonge said he plans to push hard for the reward, and will be working with police to determine whether there are other strategies to address the issue.
“This is a significant problem. It’s a rash that is happening frequently. Everybody’s vulnerable without the lights,” he said. “This will hopefully get someone to talk.”
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