Thursday, November 8 2012 9:30 AM EST2012-11-08 14:30:14 GMT
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NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- When night falls, many North Las Vegas city streets are plunged into darkness so often, the city is having a difficult time keeping the lights on.
Thieves are targeting the city's light posts, stealing the copper wire that keeps streets illuminated from dusk to dawn.
Debrah Carter walks to her job in North Las Vegas, taking Goldcrest Drive south of Craig Road. She said she often feels unsafe when walking in the dark.
"Do you ever get that feeling there's someone behind me?" she said. "Exactly that's how I get it every time I walk down that street."
The street lights were out for months because thieves stole the copper wire inside the light poles.
Neighbors who called a North Las Vegas city hotline said they were not pleased with the response.
"The first thing I said to the lady on the phone when I first called is, ‘You know I pay taxes … and my expectation is if I pay for something ... that should be a service I get,'" said Cherry McDowell, whose neighborhood went dark. "She said, ‘Well, I pay taxes too.' And I said, ‘You don't live in the dark.' And that was the last time I talked to her."
When 8 On Your Side contacted the city, it fixed the lights in question a few days later.
A segment of Goldcrest, though, hasn't been repaired between Bravita Drive and Bola.
The I-Team, however, uncover just how much copper wire theft plunged the city into darkness.
The answer was illuminating.
For every dollar North Las Vegas spends on street light maintenance and repair, nearly 60 cents worth of copper wire is stolen.
Relatively speaking, North Las Vegas' theft problem dwarfs the numbers provided by other cities and the county. One possible reason: Those cities have spent more money to lock up access to their light poles.
Scott Stolberg with North Las Vegas recycling company A&A Midwest said he is now electrifying his fences to protect against thieves.
"It's everything from power panel wire -- that's just big thick copper – to computer cable that has very little," Stolberg said.
Stolberg estimated thieves could collect $50 from 20 pounds of wire in a single light post.
North Las Vegas city spokeswoman Juliet Casey admitted wire theft at Goldcrest Drive has happened several times. She said it would be costly to fix and that's it will take efforts to afford those fixes.
That was the answer until North Las Vegas police became involved. According to police, copper wire theft was decreasing as a problem in the city.
When asked what action was taken by police to investigate the Goldcrest Drive copper theft, the police's response was "none."
Furthermore, North Las Vegas declined to answer simple questions to prove their claim theft was decreasing. According to the city, it would take a city employee six hours to get those answers, at a rate of $40 an hour, just to respond to the I-Team's email.
The value of copper is going up from historic lows, and North Las Vegas has plenty of unsecured wires that keep getting stolen.
North Las Vegas Police spokesman Tim Bedwell said his department was also in the dark because no report was filed.
"There was no police report completed for the theft of the copper wire that was taken from public light poles on Goldcrest," Bedwell said.
Since the I-Team's investigation, the police department has directed the public works department to inform police of all reports of copper wire theft.
Bedwell said that despite the neighborhood being targeted, copper theft is down from its peak two years ago.