Theft of utilities on the rise as economy stays sour

KANSAS CITY — The two workers for Kansas City Power & Light had their suspicions about the small house in the Gladstone neighborhood.

Billing reports showed only sporadic use of electricity throughout the month, with spikes at different times. Maybe someone's rigging the meter, they thought, so it measures only a small portion of the electricity used.

They got the proof they needed when they saw the meter, with a hole drilled in its faceplate and a thin wire jammed into it.

"Confirmed," said Steven Glenn, revenue protection manager for KCP&L, as his investigator shut off power to the house.

The two were soon heading for a home in south Kansas City. Another suspected theft. In a dismal economy where many laid-off workers struggle to pay bills, utilities across the country are seeing a growing number of customers resorting to theft.

Stealing the electricity or natural gas they need, no matter what the cost to themselves if something goes wrong, or to their pocketbooks once they’re caught.

“We’re going out and shutting off the meter,” said Glenn, “and after we leave, they go back out and turn it on.”

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