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Surrey Considers New Approach to Tackling Wire Theft

Threads of copper wire

June 25, 2012

Surrey – The City of Surrey is considering replacing all the copper street light wire in Surrey with aluminum wire in an effort to crack down on wire theft.

The City spends approximately $250,000 each month in repair costs due to wire theft, and has spent about $7 million over the past five years, in addition to the salaries of City staff, by-law enforcement officers and police officers who deal with the issue.

“Copper wire theft is a significant problem for cities across North America and it continues to get worse as the price of copper goes up,” says Mayor Dianne Watts. “The City and RCMP have implemented various measures to prevent additional theft from occurring, but due to the vast size of Surrey and the expensive network of street lights, we are finding it very challenging to protect our copper wire assets. We are continually looking at new ways to curb this costly problem.”

The City is now analyzing the business case for replacing the copper wire with aluminum wire because it has proven to be an effective wire alternative which is less likely to be stolen because it has only 10 per cent of the value. It is estimated that a city-wide replacement will cost $10 to 12 million. The City is also considering installing technology that can monitor street light circuit voltage drops in a more timely way, so police can catch thieves in the act.

“Over the past year, the City has been replacing stolen copper wire with aluminum wire, which has prevented theft from recurring, and has shown to be the most effective tactic in dealing with the issue,” says Councillor Barinder Rasode, Chair of the Community Safety Committee. She adds the City continues to encourage people to call police or Crime Stoppers if they witness suspicious activity.

The City’s engineering department has explored various wire theft mitigation initiatives, including:

  • All new street light conductor wire that is installed in Surrey is labeled on the insulation jacket with the words “Property of the City of Surrey” and is date coded so that it can be identified for prosecution purposes if it is stolen and then recovered.
  • New street light installations are fitted with lockable hand hole covers and “baffles” within the pole that make street light wire removal more difficult.
  • Since 2006, over 4,000 of the City’s 29,000 street light poles have been fitted with locking or security bolt hand hole covers at locations where theft has been prevalent. This has had limited success.
  • Movable CCTV cameras were placed at high theft locations with a view to capturing images of the thieves and having evidence with which to prosecute them. This has had limited success.
  • Currently, where copper conductor wire is stolen from the street light system it is now being replaced with aluminum wire. In this regard, since May of last year 11,000 metres of aluminum wire has been installed. No significant wire theft loss has been experienced at locations that have been retrofitted with aluminum wire.

The City’s Crime Reduction Strategy Office has also undertaken numerous education and awareness initiatives, and has been successfully lobbying the provincial government for more effective legislation to help combat the problem.

The City partnered with the Surrey Crime Prevention Society to train approximately 100 volunteers, 18 RCMP Neighbourhood Liaison Officers and Community Safety Officers, as well as 70 general duty RCMP officers to recognize the signs of symptoms of wire theft, and how to best preserve evidence.

The RCMP and by-law enforcement staff have been monitoring scrap metal dealers and targeting crime groups involved in metal theft. Police made 35 arrests in 2011 related to wire theft, but there has only been a slight decrease in the number of incidents.

A report with recommendations will be forwarded to Council once the study is complete.

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Media Contact:

Tara Foslien
Senior Communications Specialist
Office of the Mayor
604.375.4584