CLEVELAND - Cleveland police put a stop to what could have been a very dangerous situation Wednesday morning when they picked up three men in a pickup truck who officers say stole manhole covers.
Cleveland police said eight manhole covers were stolen from East 65th Street and Hubbard and arrested three men. They found more of them in the back of the men's pickup truck.
"If we find them, we're going to put them in jail," said FirstEnergy spokesperson, Mark Durbin.
According to Durbin, manhole cover thefts are a serious matter. That is because manholes lead to a series of underground vaults, where power is routed from one location to another.
"If that manhole cover is not there, in addition to the danger of somebody potentially falling into that. It would also allow potentially salt and rain and snow to get down in there, as well, to cause problems to our equipment, which could lead to a possible power outage," Durbin said.
FirstEnergy said its system is reliable because they take great pains to maintain the poles, wires, manhole covers in the city. They said when someone steals something from them; they're not just stealing from the company.
"They're stealing from every single one of our customers out there," Durbin said. "If they don't have an Illuminating Company outfit on and they're monkeying with one of our manhole covers, they're not there to fix something they're probably there to steal something."
City of Cleveland Water Pollution Control said these crimes are happening more frequently than in past years and have become very costly for them and taxpayers. They said manhole covers can cost up to $200 each, in addition to personnel costs.
"This is a manhole cover that somebody stole from the street last week and they've stolen them about three or four times from this area," said Jeff Mingus who owns a business in the area.
He said the culprits keep coming back and it makes him mad.
"Yes, it does because I don't want my car falling in, and I don't want trucks falling in and delaying shipments out for our plant," he said.
Scrap steel is worth 10 cents a pound right now, according to one scrap yard dealer. However, he said there are certain items you "just don't buy" and manhole covers are one of them.
City workers were called in to find the manholes with missing covers to get them covered back up.
Cleveland police had a similar case back in November when seven manhole covers were stolen from the Bohemian National Hall, located on Broadway Avenue.
Durbin said it all boils down to money for the thieves, but in the end he said it's the thieves who will pay.
"We're considering offering a reward for someone who provides information that would lead to the arrest and conviction of someone stealing a manhole cover," he said.
"The city of Cleveland said they've been seeing manholes missing, 10 to twenty 20, at one time.
Cleveland police said if you see someone committing this crime you should contact police and call Water Pollution Control at 216-664-2513.