INDIANAPOLIS - Brazen thieves in search of power supply batteries have been causing neighborhoods across Indianapolis to temporarily lose Internet and cable television service.
Indianapolis police reports obtained by the Call 6 Investigators show several neighborhood utility boxes have been targeted within the past week on the northwest side, with thieves sometimes knocking out cable service to an area that covers several blocks of homes.
Northwest District IMPD Detective Jeff Thomas said some thefts can knock out cable and Internet service for a couple hundred families. He estimated several hundred thefts across the city in recent months.
“It seems to be a new trend,” said another Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer who reviewed the recent theft reports.
People who live in several neighborhoods that were hit by the thieves this week said the street corner utility boxes are often left with their doors hanging open and wires dangling out of them after the criminals strike.
“It’s happening every couple of days sometimes,” said one man who lives off Congress Avenue near the Naval Armory.
Cable and Internet provider Bright House Networks reported to IMPD on Tuesday that three batteries were stolen from its utility box in a neighborhood alley. The batteries were valued at $450 and were quickly replaced, said Joe Durkin at Bright House headquarters in Florida.
Roadside cable boxes were also stripped of their batteries in the 3600 block of Moller Road and the 3600 block of Clifton Street, where a Bright House technician told police the theft knocked out power to the entire cable system in that neighborhood. In that crime, the three batteries were valued at $900, along with a $100 cable harness that was attached to the batteries, which was also stolen.
Another Indianapolis cable provider, Comcast, has also been hit by the growing trend.
Spokeswoman Mary Beth Halprin told the Call 6 Investigators her company is working with police to track down the thieves that target its system. She said most of the battery thefts are not noticed by Comcast customers because they only provide backup power in the event of an electrical outage.
Comcast reported batteries being stolen from its roadside boxes in the 6400 block of Walton, as well as the 8100 block of Hayworth and the 5100 block of Delmar over the past several months. In one crime, six batteries were valued at $720, while power supply cables that were also stolen were valued at $300.
The Call 6 Investigators have been tracking how metal thefts are impacting people in surprising ways throughout Indianapolis over the past few months, including downspouts being ripped off homes and air conditioners being stolen while people sleep.
Police said thieves are now focusing their attention on batteries because they can be easily sold on the black market, and because the batteries can rarely be traced to a specific crime if they are sold to metal scrap yards for cash. In other recent cases, thieves have targeted entire fleets of Indianapolis trucks and church buses.
“We got to catch them in the act,” said Thomas, calling the crimes “frustrating” for police as well as the people who lose their cable service.
While scrap yards are required to take fingerprints and photo identification cards for anyone selling material, many batteries that have no unique markings on them provide police with no way of tracing them or proving that they were stolen from a particular location, he said.
In this week’s crimes that targeted the Bright House Network cable system, Durkin said his company is working with police to prevent future thefts and make its network boxes less vulnerable to thieves.
He said his company was notified this week that IMPD had made an arrest after catching one thief in the act while breaking into a Bright House Network box. A neighbor spotted someone cracking into the roadside box and called 911, prompting police to arrive and quickly arrest the criminal in action, he said.
“Be good neighbors,” he said, urging people to call police whenever they see something suspicious near one of the utility boxes.
He said his company was not notified exactly where the arrest took place, and the arrest could not be confirmed with IMPD northwest district detectives or with a headquarters spokesman.
It was unclear whether the arrest was connected with any of this week’s outages, or whether it was a separate and isolated theft.
Police said they are urging Bright House and Comcast to better secure their roadside utility boxes or perhaps locate them higher off the ground to deter this new brand of criminal.
Thomas, who has been tracking some of the recent thefts reported to IMPD, estimated that more than 100 battery thefts have targeted the Comcast cable system locally, while more than 40 battery thefts have hit the Bright House system in recent months.