Fremont Copper Thieves Could Cost City $800,000 in Streetlight Repairs

After cutting power to streetlights, vandals have been stealing valuable copper wire and selling it as scrap metal.

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    Police want community members to report suspicious activity, particularly because the vandals may be dressed as repair crews in uniform with utility trucks.

    Copper thefts from Fremont city streetlights are on the rise, and police are asking for the public's help in putting an end to the expensive crime.

    According to the city, in the past seven months, copper wire theft repairs have cost the city approximately $460,000 and left many streetlights inoperable until they can be repaired.

    Those repairs are costing the city more than expected, and Tuesday night the City Council highlighted the crime's impact as it discussed amending its streetlight maintenance contract with Republic ITS.

    If the crimes continue unabated, the city could end up spending almost $800,000 for the current fiscal year for associated repairs.

    Since 2010, as the value of copper has increased, streetlight wire theft has dramatically increased because vandals steal the copper wire and sell it as scrap metal.

    According to the city, work and repairs associated with wire theft have cost about $180,000 so far this year and the city has pending theft-associated repairs estimated to cost about $280,000, prompting a contract amendment of $300,000.

    City staff have projected that repairs related to wire theft for the final five months of the current fiscal year will cost $328,000. If the thefts are not deterred, the city may need to amend the contract by an additional $350,000.

    Fremont is not alone, however. Several Bay Area municipalities, schools and transit agencies -- including BART -- have been targeted by wire vandals. BART reports that it made an insurance claim of $500,000 after thieves stole a giant spool of cable from a contractor's yard in December 2010.

    Fremont police suspect that the thieves have been stealing the copper wire at night, sometimes working two consecutive nights to remove the material -- first cutting the power and then returning to collect the wire.

    A non-functioning streetlight may be a clue for law enforcement, and police are asking community members to be vigilant and report suspicious activity, particularly because the vandals may appear to resemble repair crews in uniform with utility trucks.

    Authorized repair workers should be traveling in a vehicle bearing the City of Fremont logo or Republic ITS logo.

    Anyone who witnesses a crime should call 911, and those with information about suspicious activity should call (510) 790-6800.