Low-down crooks are diving into city manholes for copper wire in a recent crime trend that’s caused power outages for residents and businesses, and even a major hospital, authorities said.
At least a dozen times during the past three weeks, thieves went underground to nab copper from electrical vaults that help feed high-voltage electricity to buildings, police and utility officials said.
On Wednesday, the theft of a copper ring from a transformer cut off power to the UC San Francisco Medical Center at Mount Zion, PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles said. The hospital was forced to run on backup generators for most of the day, he said.
The thefts are a troublesome trend, police Sgt. Troy Dangerfield said. Copper can be sold to scrap-metal dealers for up to $3 a pound, depending on its quality.
The recessionary times have more folks looking for an easy buck, dealers said.
Police say transients are often responsible for the underground thefts. The robberies typically occur between 2 and 6 a.m., police said.
“The normal person would be afraid to go down there,” Dangerfield said.
He compared the trend to a period some years ago when thieves broke into parking meters.
“It was just a few at first,” Dangerfield said. “Then, word spread and everyone began using the same tools to bust them.”
Better methods of securing meters helped stop those thefts, and that’s what may need to happen with underground vaults, police said.
Increased lighting to areas where copper thieves commonly strike can be a helpful deterrent, according to police. Also, cops are asking the public to report suspicious activity around manholes.
Sites of recent copper thefts: