Wire thieves the latest threat to public safety on St. Paul streets

It understandably hasn’t received much attention given the rampant shootings, car jackings, and general atmosphere of lawlessness that dominates media crime coverage. But there’s another indicator that illustrates how little criminals evidently fear being held accountable by authorities that’s prompting an outcry in St. Paul.

The city has posted this public appeal on its website to call attention to the out-of-control theft of copper wire that’s raising havoc with street lights, endangering the public.

Why Are The Street Lights Out or Dark? Wire Theft

The City of Saint Paul Department of Public Works maintains more than 37,000 street lights and 32,000 light poles throughout Saint Paul. Street lights are a critical part of the City’s infrastructure because they provide illumination for safe pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle access within the City right of way (sidewalks, boulevards and streets). Street lights can also serve as a general deterrent for unlawful activities. 

In the recent years the City of Saint Paul has experienced significant and reoccurring theft of the wire from street light fixtures both in City right of way and parks. While this issue is not unique for other cities and municipalities across the nation, Saint Paul has seen an increase in wire theft since early 2021.

In order to short circuit some thieves, the city now intentionally leaves the street lights on during the day as a deterrent. The live electric wires add an element of danger to amateurs who may not realize the risks involved and how to mitigate them.

Stealing the wire from the street lights is not only illegal and leaves many of our neighborhoods, roadways, and parks dark for extended periods of time, but also can be dangerous to the thieves – as we are leaving more lights energized during the day to deter theft. In addition, the thieves often do significant additional damage to the internal conduits, external base, and entire system which takes additional time, resources, and costs to be repaired and replaced along with the missing wire.

Despite the risks, St. Paul cannot keep up with the vandals, who sometimes go to elaborate lengths to disguise themselves as municipal work crews.

City staff has put additional resources to repair and replace street lights that have been damaged due to wire theft, only to have the new wire stolen again within a matter of hours. More areas of Saint Paul remain dark as we cannot repair and replace the wire as fast as it is being stolen.

Wire theft is not random, but often organized and coordinated with people even wearing vests and putting out cones. If you see anyone “working” on street lights during any time of the day or night and there is a not a City of Saint Paul vehicle near the site, please report the location and activity to the Saint Paul Police Department at 651-291-1111. Do not approach the “workers.”

Copper thieves target St. Paul due to the vulnerability of the city’s old-fashioned street lights. With copper at an all-time high, authorities also want businesses to be on the lookout for thieves hawking stolen city property.

The City of Saint Paul asks for your partnership by rejecting any and all materials (including, but not limited to wire) that are suspected to have come from City lighting systems, and to contact the appropriate law enforcement agency when those suspicions can be confirmed. 

The cost to St. Paul taxpayers from copper theft over the last two years adds up to an estimated $400,000. But there’s another cost that can’t be calculated in the loss of security residents sense when the street lights on their block go dark.