The Surprisingly Serious Problem of Manhole Cover Theft

Manhole cover theft certainly doesn’t sound like the nation’s biggest criminal problem today, but you might be surprised to learn that it’s actually a very serious — and expensive — trend on the rise.

How It Happens:

Thieves typically hit spots that don’t have much traffic and aren’t heavily monitored with CCTV cameras. These thieves usually make an effort to look legitimate, especially if stealing the manhole cover in broad daylight; they’ll wear utility gear and bring the construction tools needed to lift the heavy covers.

Where It Happens:

This type of theft can occur in any major city, and even in cities outside of the United States. Typically, manhole cover thefts happen in the same neighborhood or city around the same time. In one case, the city of Calcutta, India saw 10,000 manhole covers disappear within two months.

Why It Happens:

It might seem like an arduous process for most people, but thieves steal manhole covers so that they can sell the covers as scrap iron. It definitely is a lot of work, considering that the typical iron manhole cover can weigh as much as 300 lbs., but only nets around $20-$30 when taken to a scrap yard. Still, it’s a simple enough process for a small team of able-bodied thieves. The fact that manhole cover theft does occur suggests that it provides enough of a profit to take the risk.

So What’s the Real Problem?

First of all, it’s important to note that even though the manhole cover itself might only produce $30 when scrapped, it costs companies a lot more than that to make traditional iron manhole covers and place them across manholes. Second of all, the safety risks are obvious. It might be easy enough for pedestrians to spot gigantic holes during the daytime, but what about at night? What if a bicyclist swerves over to avoid hitting a car and doesn’t spot the hole before it’s too late? Even a car tire can get stuck in these holes if the driver doesn’t see it. There are many, many safety hazards that thieves create when stealing manhole covers.

Okay, So What’s the Solution?

Cities have developed several different deterrents. Some cities have begun placing locks on their manhole covers. Others have forged relationships with local scrap shops, so that anyone who brings a specific company’s manhole cover can be identified and reported. One of the best way to deter this theft, however, is simply using composite manhole covers instead of traditional cast iron covers. Composite manhole covers have absolutely no scrap value, so even though they can be up to 85% lighter in weight than iron covers, there’s no reason to steal them.

Manhole cover theft might be one of the most serious problems plaguing our streets today, but it’s important to realize that there are ways to stop it before it even occurs.

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