Oklahoma City hoping to tackle streetlight copper theft with new strategy

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Copper thieves have stolen a total of 13 miles of copper, leaving stretches of Oklahoma City's streets in the dark.

Now, officials hope to have most of those lights back up and running by the summer.

Following the time change, mornings tend to be darker than usual. For some, their daily drive is even darker.

Miles of streetlights are out following the work of copper thieves, and city officials suspect that some drivers may have even seen them in action.

"You may notice what you think is a maintenance crew on the center median doing some work. Well, what they may be are thieves in the process of stealing copper," said Brian Alford, with OG&E.

Alford says the swift and crafty crooks are  often dressed in safety vests and helmets. He says one person will cut the copper wire at one end, while another person thousands of feet away cuts another end.

"And then there may be someone in the back of the truck who is turning the spooler to spool the copper and they don't ever stop. They just keep going," he said.

This has resulted in the loss of more than 13 miles of copper in the last 18 months.

But how do you combat the problem?

One strategy OG&E is working on is replacing copper wiring with less valuable aluminum, even adding decals to let thieves know it's aluminum.

Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty says they're also cracking down on the recyclers, making sure they document where and whom their copper comes from.

"We have to be vigilant in making sure we're holding those recyclers accountable," Citty said. "If we don't, then they're probably going to bend the rules some."

Officials are hoping most of the highways will be properly lit by the summer.

As for the reason why it's taken so long, the delay comes down to resources.

"These are unbudgeted expenses for the city," said Alford. "The city has to go through the process of making the funds available to affect the repairs. Then they notify us and we have the process of engineering the project and getting the materials and supplies we need and crews we need."

OG&E hopes to begin transitioning incandescent streetlights to LED bulbs as well as repairing LED bulbs in downtown Oklahoma City.

They hope to find ways to better monitor their performance, but you are encouraged to call OG&E at (405)272-9741 to report outages.

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