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Hundreds of Los Angeles fire hydrants stolen as fire season starts

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(The Center Square) – The Los Angeles Sheriffs’ Department is investigating the theft of 99 fire hydrants since the start of the year, a troubling development as fire season approaches.

Fire hydrant thefts join a spate of street lamp pole thefts in Pasadena and the rise of electric vehicle charging thefts nationwide as infrastructure theft for scrap metal becomes a serious problem for billions of dollars in taxpayer investments.

In 2014, California voters passed Proposition 14, which allows theft under $950 to be charged as a misdemeanor. With a limited amount of prosecutorial resources, prosecuting thefts under $950 in resale value is a lesser priority than violent crimes. Leaders point to a combination of police shortages and lack of criminal prosecution as enabling infrastructure theft that could put public safety at risk.

“These fire hydrant thefts are yet another sign of how crime is out of control in Los Angeles County,” said former Assistant U.S. Attorney General Nathan Hochman, who is running against Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon, to The Center Square. “Thieves know they’ll face little or no consequences if they are caught, so they’re willing to risk the public’s safety for a small profit.”

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva suggested a shortage of law enforcement personnel is also contributing to the thefts.

“This is no surprise to me, when you have more crooks and less crops you’ve got more competition,” Villanueva said to The Center Square. “It used to be wire stripping, then it was statue stealing, and now it’s fire hydrants. It’s a natural consequence of the defund-the-police movement.”

As of December 2023, LASD was short approximately 2,800 employees, including 1,200 sworn deputies.

According to Golden State Water Company, which owns the hydrants, 302 hydrants were stolen in the south side of Los Angeles County between January 2023 and last month. In a statement to ABC 7 on rising hydrant thefts, GSWC said it is replacing hydrants, installing hydrant locks, and informing local scrap yards that receiving hydrants is a federal offense.

California’s wildfire season tends to last from April to October, suggesting continued fire hydrant thefts could risk public safety.