Kansas City lacks the coin to fight copper thefts

Jeff Gilbert’s block in the Northland went dark this summer, thanks to thieves who stole copper cables from the streetlights.

It's still dark, and as days grow shorter in the Pine Grove neighborhood, Gilbert worries about the safety of his three young children.

Gilbert called city officials, but, he said, "they don’t have any answers."

Thefts of copper from streetlights have reached such epidemic proportions that repair costs could top $1 million this year — money the city hadn’t planned to spend.

At a meeting last week to discuss the problem, City Engineer Greg Rokos said the city already had completed or was in the midst of repairing lights at more than 30 locations at a cost of more than $270,000. But the city has not yet started repairs at 18 other locations, including in Gilbert’s neighborhood, that are projected to cost $152,000.

Kansas City Council members and city staff said they were not ignoring the problem and were searching for solutions.

"Neighborhoods are being told, 'We can’t fix your lights.' " said Councilwoman Deb Hermann. Her office received an e-mail from a Kansas City police officer warning that, as winter approaches, the safety risk for some Northland areas grows.

"It is so dark in this area that even with headlights it is hard to see," the officer wrote. "Imagine when the snow comes and we have difficulty seeing and then get into an accident. Is a death worth the cost of copper?"

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