Rampant copper thefts slow streetlight repairs in St. Paul

As the days get shorter this fall, some St. Paul homeowners have about reached their wits’ end, as they pay taxes to a city they say is struggling to keep the lights on.

It’s a problem citywide: thieves are breaking into streetlights and causing a ton of damage, in search of a copper payday. Some criminals have even used cars and saws to break in.

Michele Maruska and her neighbors have reported the blackouts, but they say nothing is being done. "The city is ignoring the property owners," Maruska told FOX 9 on Monday. "For the last two and a half months we’ve had no streetlights at all."

Lisa Hiebert with the St. Paul Public Works department says the city’s strategy to fight the crime includes: better light securing, leaving lights energized throughout the day, and exploring different design options. 

They’ve also reduced the value of copper in the lights, and they are marking copper wires with labels. However, Hiebert admits nothing has helped to slow down criminals.

"We have a backlog, so people need to be a little patient with us," Hiebert said. "We have a lot of neighborhoods where we’ve gone back, and we’ve actually re-wired and turned on the lights, and then it’s actually stolen within a day or two. Residents don’t even know we were out there."

St. Paul city council president Amy Broendmoen represents Maruska’s neighborhood.

"I share the frustration, my neighborhood is dark too," Broendmoen said. "But at the same time, it is irresponsible for us to replace the wire, if it is going to be stolen in the next day or two. We need a solution."

"Unfortunately, if you wait, we’re going to have more crime increases, violence, theft… because there’s no deterrent," Maruska responded.

St. Paul officials are reminding residents to call the police if they see a person "working on lights," without a City of St. Paul vehicle parked nearby.

Broendmoen would also like to see charging decisions ramped up from theft to tampering with essential services.