NewsLocal NewsIn Your NeighborhoodBakersfield


Copper wire theft from city street lights is a costly crime with little payout

Posted at 7:48 PM, May 30, 2024
  • Video shows city streetlights which are being targeted by thieves for the copper wire.
  • The number of instances of copper wire theft from street lights is getting worse. While thieves may only get a few hundred dollars for the copper, the cost for repairs is in the thousands.

When you hear copper mining, you might think the industry consists of searching through hillsides for precious metals. But in urban areas like Bakersfield, thieves are searching for copper anywhere they can find it, even street lights.

As instances of theft from street lights increase, it’s costing the City of Bakersfield much more than a pretty penny.

“It's a terrible situation because you're scared to go in here at night because you don't know what's there," said John Valdez, a grandfather living in East Bakersfield.

Valdez lives next to the Sunny Lane pedestrian bridge, one of the areas recently left dark due to copper wire theft.

The 68-year-old grandfather said he often takes time to clean up trash on the bridge and his grandchildren use it to get to and from school. That's why safety and lighting on the bridge is so important to him.

“This is clean because I cleaned all up the big papers, but I just tried to do what I could myself," he said.

After thieves struck the bridge, the City estimated the cost for just the materials to fix it would be $10,000 not including labor and trucks. Bakersfield City Public Works Director Gregg Strakaluse suspects the value of the copper wire stolen is minimal compared to what they'll spend for repair.

“Today there’s a new industry. It’s urban copper mining," Strakaluse said. “Running at about $4.60/lb now, the cost to repair the damage that’s done is much more significant than the value of the copper removed."

The number of instances of copper wire theft from street lights is also getting worse. Meanwhile, Public Works General Services Supervisor 2 James Lawson and his crew are the ones having to repair these areas.

“There’s been a recent uptick, typically we get the larger areas typically once a month around this time and smaller incidents are weekly," Lawson said.

Recently they were sent to the Chester Avenue bridge which had nearly two dozen street lights taken out by copper wire theft.

“In this incident, there was very little copper wire stolen," he said.

Strakaluse suspects the amount of copper wire stolen was worth less than $50. The cost of repair materials this time was nearly $15,000 not including the cost of labor for public works.

Lawson said with 20,000 street lights in the city, a single incident could be very detrimental to our maintenance schedule.

Strakaluse said that's why the City is looking at multiple ways to increase security of their lights. One of those ways includes using aluminum, which Lawson said has less of a recycle value than copper. The City is also replacing the boxes with stronger plates and unique “Bakersfield Bolts" which only public works can access.

Since October 2021, the city has purchased over 200 of these high-security lids. Most have been installed.

In seven instances, the cost for materials totaled around $47,000. A eighth incident at new industrial park had nine lights out due to copper wire theft. The total extent of damage is still being determined.

While the city works to improve preventative measures, Valdez worries it won't be enough.

“The people where they take it to the recycle, they should look at it and say wait a minute, this is not a regular wire," he said.

While you might think these incidents of copper wire theft from street lights are taking place in the middle of night when no one’s watching, Strakaluse said that’s actually not the case. He said in fact, due to the dangerous nature of live copper wire thieves will actually hit streets lights during the day when their off.

That’s why if you notice something that looks suspicious, you should report it immediately.

Stay in Touch with Us Anytime, Anywhere: