Stoplights the latest target of copper wire thieves in St. Paul
Thieves looking for copper wire are now targeting traffic signals in St. Paul.
The parks department said people have been breaking into street lights for several years, but now they are damaging critical infrastructure as well.
“I would say that kind of upped the ante a little bit. It’s like, okay, now we’re getting into some core city infrastructure that has potential traffic implications and other things that we need to really be thinking about this differently,” said Andy Rodriguez, parks director for the City of St. Paul.
The stoplights near Como Zoo were out for several days after thieves broke into the access panels looking for copper wire a few weeks ago.
That area near Como Regional Park is one of the most visited regional parks in the state.
“It’s a huge quality of life and public safety issue,” Rodriguez said. “Those stops are regulated for a reason and when that’s not there, it presents complications.”
Rodriguez also noted that those who are breaking into traffic signals may not realize that the crime does not come with a big payoff, since the cables inside are mostly fiber optics.
“They might get some copper wire, but probably not as significant as they think. The majority of it is cable that is not of value,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s a guessing game for them. It’s like, here’s an opportunity, let’s see what’s in there.”
However, the damage costs the city and taxpayers a significant amount of money.
The traffic signal repairs alone will cost the city more than $169,000 dollars this year.
Copper wire theft from street lights is also a growing expense, at more than $777,000 this year, compared to $453,000 last year and just $98,000 in 2019.
“We have to get creative and look for temporary solutions, whether it’s traffic lights or lights in the park. We put some heavy concrete bollards over the stoplight access panels that go into the ground, so hopefully that will prevent it and make it harder for them to access it again,” Rodriguez said. “I know public works is trying some additional security measures in cooperation with the police as well, that they don’t really elaborate on for obvious reasons.”
The city is asking the public to be vigilant as well and report anything that appears suspicious.
“You should only see city vehicles and folks in city-identified uniforms working on that type of equipment, like stoplights, so if you see something else that looks questionable, report it,” Rodriguez said.
Over the last week, the St. Paul Police Department has arrested five people for stealing copper wire, thanks to calls from the public.