KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) – Copper thieves caused Kansas City Scout cameras to go offline overnight, impacting a busy rush hour in the area of westbound Interstate 70 and 18th Street.
The headaches caused by these thefts for drivers and workers are becoming more regular, with officials with the KC Scout office saying the problem is happening every other month, noting that in 2019 alone they’ve already had to spend $35,000 to replace stolen copper.
Scout workers are currently replacing about 3,000 feet of copper wire after the most recent theft. KC Scout Manager Randy Johnson explained these thefts can put drivers at risk, adding that this case left officials without traffic cameras and message boards for seven hours.
“Anytime someone steals copper, the infrastructure goes down,” he told KCTV5 News. “For us back here in the operations center, we had no eyes on the roadway to either help the public or to help our local law enforcement for whatever they would need from us.”
Johnson explained that the copper was stolen from an underground conduit after thieves were somehow able to get the lid off, cutting wires and pulling them out through the conduit.
It would take a lot of work do pull all of the wire, but Johnson believes there is a simple reason why it’s being done.
“I can only guess that they’re selling it and getting money for it,” he said.
The risk for trying such a theft seems greater than the reward, though. Someone caught trying to steal copper wire this way could face a charge of Class B felony theft, and, according to state law, if the value of the stolen wire more than $25,000, a thief could be behind bars for 5 to 15 years.
As for the team at KC Scout, they are working on ways to prevent this kind of theft from happening again.
“Heavier lids on the pole boxes in the ground. So instead of maybe 50 pounds, they’ll be 200 pounds,” Johnson said. “And we’re looking at other technology and working with other DOTs across the country to see what they’re doing to see what we can do here in Kansas City to make sure this does not happen more in the future.”
Officials with the Missouri Department of Transportation say anyone who sees suspicious activity or people near the KC Scout equipment should call police immediately.