GARY │The Indiana Department of Transportation and the state police are asking for public assistance to help catch metal scrapper thieves, who they say cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and threaten the safety of drivers.
INDOT spokesman Matt Deitchley said over the last two years highway wire theft, particularly along the Interstate 80/94 and I-65 corridors, has cost Indiana taxpayers more than $300,000 in repair and replacement costs in addition to darkening the highways motorists are traveling on.
“We really want to work as hard as we can to try to stop that,” he said. “These thieves are doing just about anything they can to get these wires just like they have done in metal thefts all across the country for the last five to 10 years.”
Deitchley said one person drove a car into a pole to get into a locked box, which weakens the foundation of the pole.
“We want to empower the public to help,” he said. “More than 1 million people in the course of a week travel on I-65 and I-80/94 in our area. “That’s a million sets of eyes that can help us stop these crooks.”
The public is being asked to call police if they see anyone near the lighting poles -- even if it’s someone who looks official.
“They can be wearing highway safety gear or regular clothes,” Deitchley said. “The state police will investigate anyone near these poles. To make sure we get everyone who’s doing this, that’s the way we’re going to attack this.”
Deitchley said INDOT is putting more scrutiny on poles in an effort to catch thieves. Indiana State Police Lt. Jerry W. Williams said the state police has increased visibility.
Williams said there is no call from the public that is too small and the state place “go out and challenge individuals as to whether they have a right to be at that pole.”
Williams said there also is a dangerous risk to the thieves because they are dealing with live wires.