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Streetlight Copper Wire Theft

Streetlight copper wire thefts are a problem across Tacoma and the nation. Not only is this crime costing our community hundreds of thousands of unbudgeted dollars, but the crime itself can be dangerous to criminals and residents. With 30,000 streetlight and junction box targets throughout our community, Tacoma needs watchful residents to help.

Activities to Watch For

Image of an uncovered junction box The first stage of this crime may occur in broad daylight. 
  • Criminals may use official-looking white vans and orange construction vests to avoid suspicion. Legitimate streetlight crews will generally be in bucket-trucks, marked with official City, Tacoma Public Utilities or other logos. 
  • To locate a covered junction box criminals may poke around in grass turf. 
  • The thief may drop something, such as a bicycle or construction cones, over a junction box to hide their activity. 
  • They may break into and then cut the streetlight or junction box wires to ensure darkness when they return to steal the wire later that night. 
 The criminals(s) may return after dark to finish their efforts. 
  • They may draw the wire out by hand or by tying it to a vehicle or bicycle to yank it out quickly. 
  • Often the wire is stuffed into a backpack. 
Report a crime in-progress to the Tacoma Police Department by dialing 911. 
Junction boxes may be embedded in concrete, soil or grass.
Junction boxes may be embedded in concrete, soil or grass.
Streetlight access panels are generally located near the base of streetlights.
Streetlight access panels are generally located near the base of streetlights.

When citizens report a streetlight outage, the top priority of Public Works Department crews is to secure the site for public safety. To report an outage that has not yet been addressed, call 311 or use the CityQA online reporting system.

Please be patient. In the first ten months of 2013, the City of Tacoma and its citizens were the victims of 11 streetlight copper wire thefts. In the final two months of 2013, Tacoma was victimized 56 additional times, with crimes continuing into 2014. City crews have been unable to keep up with repairs.

Repair Prioritization 

  1. Repairs that can be quickly fixed during the initial public safety inspection
  2. High pedestrian or traffic use areas
  3. The order of when outages were reported and entered into the City’s SAP tracking system
Repair Response Times
The City of Tacoma has created an interactive streetlight outage map.  This map allows you to enter your address and find out if an location has already been reported or get an estimated repair date for a specific location.

View the Streetlight Outage Map

  • Public Works has reached a financial agreement with Tacoma Power (TPU) for four of their staff to assist the Public Works Department, which will allow the 2013 thefts to be addressed by the end of April. Thefts from January 2014 will be addressed by the end of May. Alternately, it would have taken the City's two staff people until fall of 2014 to make the repairs.
  • TPU assistance is not available after May and if thefts continue to occur at an accelerated rate the City may have to return to slower response times or spend additional resources that are not budgeted to contract with external companies. 
Over the past several years our community and others have met with mixed success implementing various prevention methods. The reality is that Tacomans own 21,600 streetlights and 9,500 junction boxes that are largely unprotected. Yet, with your help, we can make it harder for criminals to get away with stealing Tacoma’s public property in the first place.

View this recent story from the City's TV Tacoma Tacoma Report for more information.