Originally published January 4, 2022
ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – Byen St. Paul says it has to do with a widespread problem with wires being stolen from street lights.
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Lisa Hiebert with the Department of Public Works says hundreds of lights have been damaged.
“It does not happen every day, every week. It really ebbs and flows,” said Hiebert. “It does not happen in just one block. Unfortunately, it happens in areas throughout St. Paul.”
St. The Paul Police Department said there has been an increase in wire theft since early 2021.
“City staff have spent additional resources on repairing and replacing street lights that have been damaged due to cord theft, only to have the new cord stolen again within hours,” the department said. “Thread theft is not random, but often organized and coordinated with people who even wear vests and put out cones.”
The department said thieves in some cases also damage internal wires and outer bases of the lights.
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“Stealing the cord from the street lights is not only illegal and leaves many of our neighborhoods, roads and parks dark for extended periods, but it can also be dangerous for thieves – as we leave several lights on during the day to deter theft,” said the department.
At least two lights are off near East 6th and Earl streets. Exposed wires dangle from broken bases.
“My dog Tuck likes to poke his nose into things, so I’m nervous when he sniffs at the wires if he gets an electric shock,” said area resident Liz Nolden.
In 2020, the estimated labor and material costs to repair the lights were $ 105,000, but by 2021 that figure rose to $ 295,000. The funds to repair the lights come from the traffic and operating budget, city officials said.
The Department of Public Works said there is usually a slight exposure to wire theft during the winter months, but the crime has not stopped this year. The thefts take place during the day and in the evening in neighborhoods all over the city. Phalen Boulevard has regularly had wires stolen, the department states.
“If you see someone working on the street lights no matter what time of day and there is not a City of St. Paul vehicle nearby, please call the police,” Hiebert said. “This affects residents, businesses, all commuters.”
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Residents can report damaged or unusable lights by calling 651-266-9777.