Nebraska's Omaha Public Power District is joining forces with area Crime Stoppers, local law enforcement, and neighborhood residents to increase security at District substations in an effort to apprehend thieves responsible for recent intrusions and copper thefts. The effort includes establishment of a new reward fund providing up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible.
Copper thefts have become a serious issue for utilities across the nation, including OPPD. So far this year the District has experienced about $136,000 in losses. The losses include material and damage to District property as well as the cost of repairs.
Beyond those losses, District officials fear the situation is creating dangerous safety hazards that could even be life-threatening. Thieves often target copper ground wires and neutrals in the substations. Without those wires, equipment may no longer be grounded, increasing the possibility of electric shock to OPPD employees entering the substations and also to the general public which may be in the vicinity. In addition to increasing the potential of causing injuries, the thefts also heighten the possibility of service disruptions for customers. Officials say creation of a reward fund underscores the seriousness of the problem.
The District believes that asking the public to assist by keeping an eye out for those who are endangering the public’s safety and health can play a key role in catching those responsible. In addition to a reward for information the District, in conjunction with law enforcement officials, has sent letters to neighborhood substation watch groups about the problem.
The letter asks recipients to urge their members, as well as other individuals who live and/or travel near local substations, to remain on the lookout for any suspicious activity. Anyone who notices anything that appears out of the ordinary is asked to report it immediately to law enforcement officials. At least one arrest has already been recorded as a result of such actions by an alert member of the public.
Meanwhile, OPPD says it has taken a number of other steps to increase security at its substations, especially those that have been hit most frequently. Those steps include increased patrols and surveillance operations, additional security lighting and installation of monitoring equipment such as security cameras.