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Metal theft spreads to Federal Way's manhole covers

This photo illustrates the gaping hole left when a storm drain grate is stolen. Grates,  manhole covers and other metals have gone missing from private businesses and public properties in recent months. The problem, especially that of missing grates, creates a safety hazard. - Courtesy photo
This photo illustrates the gaping hole left when a storm drain grate is stolen. Grates, manhole covers and other metals have gone missing from private businesses and public properties in recent months. The problem, especially that of missing grates, creates a safety hazard.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Federal Way police are warning local businesses and citizens to be on the alert for metal theft crimes.

In recent months, copper wire, scrap aluminum, rebar and other metals have gone missing from businesses and public places citywide as the price for metals continues to rise. Though metal theft is not new or increasing substantially in Federal Way, the theft of storm drains and manhole covers from both private and public locations appears to be a new trend, said police spokeswoman Cathy Schrock.

“There’s just kind of been an uptick in those particular items,” she said.

Five metal related thefts, not including the theft of grates and manhole covers, took place from January through mid-March, Schrock said.

• On Feb. 13, copper wire was reported stolen from an electrical box in the 400 block of Southwest Campus Drive.

• On Feb. 28, Costco at 35100 Enchanted Parkway reported copper wire theft, according to the police crime log. The wire spanned from a building to a generator. The incident was the fourth of its kind to happen at the location, according to the report.

• On March 7, about $800 worth of copper wire was reported stolen from Wild Waves, 36201 Enchanted Parkway. The thief took a $800 generator and other items, for a loss totaling around $2,500, according to the police log. Wild Waves marketing director Pat Walker said the incident was discussed internally. Even though businesses generally have insurance something such as metal theft still impacts daily operations, he said. It requires time and resources to address and can make some employees feel worried or unsafe. "It's one of those things that are frustrating," he said. Walker said Wild Waves personnel is keeping an eye out and reporting any suspicious behavior.

Federal Way does not appear to be the only victim of metal theft. Kent warned its citizens in January of a jump in the crime. Businesses that are bathed in darkness during the night hours are especially at risk, according to police.

Thieves are not stopping at the theft of wire. A hefty number of storm drain grates and manhole covers have been swiped recently from areas such as business parking lots and city streets. Costco, on Feb. 28, reported the theft of four storm drain covers along with the copper wire.

For the span of about a month, Federal Way was a regular victim of stolen drain grates, said surface water manager William Appleton. The city lost two to three storm drain grates a week in that time period, he said. Most of the thefts were in southeast Federal Way, near South 348th Street, he said. The grates each weigh roughly 60 pounds and cost about $90 to replace. The metal grate theft has since slowed, but city staff is unsure if a suspect was arrested or if the lull is temporary.

The grate theft, whether on private or public property, creates a safety concern. The city is considering taking measures such as welding its grates shut to prevent future theft, Appleton said. Police are encouraging business owners to consider alternatives for keeping metal grates intact. However, welding the grates shut could make it more difficult for storm drains to be maintained and inspected, Appleton said.

Metal theft may be a bigger problem than what is known to police. Large amounts of stolen metal are usually reported to police, Schrock said. Police believe some business owners are not reporting the theft of smaller items like storm drain grates.

“Businesses tend to just concentrate on getting them replaced,” Schrock said.

Business owners and citizens are encouraged to report suspicious activity, or theft of metal, by calling 911 to report a theft in progress or filing a police report at cityoffederalway.com. Anyone with information on related thefts is encouraged to contact the police’s crime analysis section at (253) 835-6706.

 

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