Thieves have been targeting the old-style street lights in Tacoma's Old Town and other neighborhoods, stealing copper wire and darkening the streets.
Since April, police have received more than 20 reports of the wire theft. Thieves have ripped off an estimated $70,000 worth of copper wire.
"This is an epidemic," police Lt. Jerry Lerum said.
To get to the valuable copper wire, thieves have been prying open the ground vaults for the light poles. The vaults, which resemble those used for water meters, are in parking strips near the 14-foot light poles, which are topped with a globe, Lerum said.
The thieves either use their hands or a vehicle to yank out the wire.
Most of the thefts happen at the night, when thieves hit one vault and take out a string of street lights, Lerum said. Utility workers find the missing copper wire when they investigate why the lights went dark.
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