SALEM - Salem police are looking for the public's help in finding a thief who is stealing copper ground wiring from utility poles and whose actions could put himself and others at risk.
"There's a possibility of someone getting electrocuted," Chief J.T. Panezott said Wednesday.
The reports have been coming into the police department the last few days, with one report Monday afternoon about copper ground wire being removed from utility poles in the 1200 and 1300 block of Fairview Avenue and the 1900 block of Merle Road. Another report came at 5:17 a.m. Tuesday in the 400 block of Fair Avenue.
Between 5:33 p.m. and 5:58 p.m. Tuesday, officers discovered more copper ground wire cut and stolen from several utility poles in the 1500 block of Franklin Avenue, on Summit Street, Homewood Place, the 800 and 900 block of Homewood Avenue and the 800 block of Aetna Street.
At 6:24 a.m. Wednesday, an officer noticed that someone had tampered with four utility poles on West Ninth Street and West Tenth Street, cutting and removing the copper ground wire.
Ohio Edison has been notified each time about the incidents. A message was left for an Ohio Edison spokesman, but a call was not returned.
The wire in question runs from the top of the pole to the bottom. Panezott said it appears the perpetrators are reaching up and cutting the wire at the point where they can reach and then cutting the wire at the bottom and pulling it out. He said a problem could come into play if the wire becomes live for some reason.
If a person tries to cut the wire, they will get electrocuted and anyone who comes to help them could be electrocuted. Also, if the wire that's left behind by the thief becomes live, someone who happened to go by could be hurt if they touch it.
Panezott is cautioning people to keep kids away from the utility poles and to call police if they see anyone messing with a utility pole. He also said to use common sense. If someone is lying next to a utility pole unresponsive, don't touch them. Call the police to assess the situation.
Capt. Scott Mason of the Salem Fire Department didn't profess to be an expert, but explained that if there's a problem in the electrical system, the power goes to the ground along these copper wires on the poles. He said a person isn't always going to know if a wire is charged or not.
He recalled that last fall when the area experienced the remnants of a major storm and trees and wires came down, they came across a pole that caught fire because of the heat from the wire.
He explained that the greatest risk would come from the point where the wire is cut off closest to the top of the pole. He said they wait for Ohio Edison to arrive before touching anything.
"We treat any line coming off of the pole as an energized line until told by the power company. We establish a safe area and keep everybody away from it," Salem Fire Department Inspector Aaron Loper said.
Panezott mentioned the copper thefts to Mason on Wednesday, with Mason noting they won't be touching anyone near any poles until they know the power is off due to the risk of electrocution.
Mason also cautioned residents about touching anyone they may find laying next to a pole, telling them to call 911.
Panezott said Detective Dave Talbert was checking with scrap yards and following up leads regarding the copper thefts.
Anyone with information should call Salem police at 330-337-7811.