BELLEVUE – Tempted by rising scrap metal prices, thieves have stooped to stealing the underground wire that carries electricity to street lights and traffic signals here. An increasing problem along highways and at construction sites across the state and nation, wire theft is becoming a serious problem in South Bellevue.
If residents see someone at night crouched over a metal door in the sidewalk or planter strip near a street light, they should call 911. Even if he or she’s wearing an orange vest, they probably don’t work for the city or a utility.
“With the price of scrap metal going up, thieves are getting bolder,” said Mark Poch, traffic engineering manager for Bellevue. “They have zeroed in on South Bellevue, taking copper wire from circuit boxes at Lakemont Boulevard, Forest Drive and Cougar Mountain Way.”
Since November, wire thieves have hit South Bellevue at least six times, pulling up to 1,500 feet of wire out of conduit at a time. Early the week of Feb. 18, thieves struck at Lakemont Boulevard between Southeast 58th and 62nd streets. In all, replacing the wire and reconnecting the power to multiple streetlights has cost the city and its taxpayers a total of about $15,000, not counting staff time.
Statewide, copper wire valued at more than $100,000 has been stolen from state-owned street lights, signals and storage yards. Some metal thieves in the Puget Sound area have gone so far as to don orange vests and hard hats to look like official workers. Last fall, men were caught trying to steal wire connected to stadium floodlights at Interlake and Newport high schools.
The city is asking residents to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior near traffic or street lights, especially at night. City and state crews drive marked vehicles and carry identification badges.
The overwhelming majority of these crimes are related to drugs, typically methamphetamine. The Bellevue Police Department vigorously investigates wire thefts, as well as all narcotics violations, to work the problem from both ends.
The police also are working with scrap dealers in a cooperative effort to dry up sources of cash for stolen goods and protect the dealers from losing money by paying for stolen products, which they lose to evidence.
Anyone who operates a business that sells copper, bronze or brass in quantity should take steps to secure their stocks to avoid being struck by a single large loss by theft. This can include plumbing and electrical supply businesses and construction sites.
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