Originally published on Jan. 4, 2022

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — The city of St. Paul says it’s dealing with a widespread problem of wires being stolen out of streetlights.

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Lisa Hiebert with the Public Works Department says hundreds of lights have been damaged.

“It’s not happening every day, every week. It really kind of ebbs and flows,” Hiebert said. “It’s not just happening in one neighborhood. Unfortunately, it’s happening in areas throughout St. Paul.”

The St. Paul Police Department said there’s been an uptick in wire theft since early 2021.

“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,” the department said. “Wire theft is not random, but often organized and coordinated with people even wearing vests and putting out cones.”

The department said, in some cases, the thieves are also damaging internal conduits and external bases of the lights.

(credit: CBS)

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“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,” the department said.

At least two lights are out near East 6th and Earl streets. Exposed wires dangle from broken-open bases.

“My dog Tuck likes to stick his nose in things, so I’m nervous when he sniffs at the wires if he’ll get electrocuted,” said area resident Liz Nolden.

In 2020, the estimated labor and materials cost to fix the lights was $105,000, but in 2021, that figure increased to $295,000. The funds to fix the lights comes from the traffic and operations budget, city officials said.

The Public Works Department said there’s usually a small reprieve in wire theft during winter months, but the crime has not let up this year. The thefts are happening during the day and in the evenings, in neighborhoods across the city. Phalen Boulevard has regularly had wires stolen, the department said.

“If you see anybody working on the streetlights, doesn’t matter what time of the day, and there isn’t a City of St. Paul vehicle right nearby, please do give the police a call,” Hiebert said. “This impacts the residents, businesses, all the commuters.”

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Residents can report damaged or inoperable lights by calling 651-266-9777.

David Schuman