Thieves stealing manhole covers, storm grates

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PHOENIX -- First it was copper wire and pipes, now thieves looking to make a buck are targeting manhole and storm drain covers.

Citywide issue
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Victor Hernandez, who works in City of Phoenix Public Works Department, said 175 storm drain grates and at least 30 manhole covers have been stolen this year.

According to Sina Matthes, a public information officer for the city, just six grates and two covers disappeared least year.

Hernandez says the thefts have picked up "big time" since April or May.

"This is a new thing," he said. "People are stealing them and they're cashing them in for dollars -- for money."

Matthes said between manufacturing and installation, it's costing the city about $100,000 to replace the stolen covers.

With the cast iron storm grates weighing between 150 and 200 pounds and the steel manhole covers weighing in between 50 and 150 pounds, the metal fixtures are not particularly easy things to steal.

Hernandez said is likely takes a team -- two people plus a driver -- to carry off the grates and covers, which come in varying sizes.

In order to prevent more thefts, the city trying a device to lock the covers down. In addition, they're welding the letters COP (City of Phoenix) on all the grates so scrap-metal vendors know the source.

Hernandez said in all of his 20 years with the city, he's never seen anything like this.

"This is the first year we've experience something like this," he said.

The growing problem is a costly one, prompting the Phoenix Police Department to assign a special unit of four detectives. They are working with scrap-metal yards and so far have been able to recover more than 40 fixtures.

While there are more grates and covers missing in the central part of the city, Matthes said the thefts are a citywide problem.

If anyone sees somebody attempting to steal an inlet or manhole, they should call 911. If they notice one missing, they should contact Street Transportation Maintenance at 602-262-6441.