If it ain't red hot or nailed down
November 25, 2005 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Baltimore Officials Puzzled By Stolen Light Poles. Thieves, apparently sometimes disguising themselves as utility workers, have stolen 130+ aluminum light poles in Baltimore. How is it that no one has seen the thieves making off with a 30' pole? On the other hand, maybe this will help the city find its new slogan (I like "Baltimore: Leading the Fight Against Light Pollution").
posted by 445supermag (30 comments total)
Speaking as a native Baltimorean, I was completely unaware of this phenomenon until now.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:01 PM on November 25, 2005

This is an awesome story, and so typically Baltimore. I'm not sure if you have to live here to truly appreciate what a whacked out place this city is, but this kind of thing seems entirely consistent with the economy of Mob Town, as many of the scrap metal dealers point out in the first linked article. It's already eery here, with whole blocks boarded up and abandoned, collateral damage to the intense drug use in the city. All those houses are already shells, their copper piping pulled out and sold for money for heroin and crack.
posted by OmieWise at 1:03 PM on November 25, 2005

I know I'm not a native, and I've met and respect you, but shouldn't that be "native Baltimoron?"
posted by OmieWise at 1:04 PM on November 25, 2005

It's not much of a mystery, at 250lb a piece and scrap aluminum being somewhere between 30 and 60 cents a pound each pole nets 75-150 dollars. Not bad for an hours work.
posted by Mitheral at 1:05 PM on November 25, 2005

When I was a kid the big crime wave around Dayton, OH was people stealing air-conditioner units. Not the window units, mind you, but the big-ass central units. It pretty much comes down to: If it can be sold, it will be stolen.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:09 PM on November 25, 2005

I think the mystery is that is spite of the large number and size of the item, no witnesses have come forward.
posted by 445supermag at 1:09 PM on November 25, 2005

To be fair, in certain countries these people would be considered entrepreneurs...
posted by seanyseansean at 1:12 PM on November 25, 2005

Time to get Pembleton on the case.
posted by justgary at 1:22 PM on November 25, 2005

I know I'm not a native, and I've met and respect you, but shouldn't that be "native Baltimoron?"

Close. It's actually "Bawlmeran."
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:24 PM on November 25, 2005

The City that Breeds.
posted by bardic at 1:28 PM on November 25, 2005

Last year, Baltimore, with a population about one-twelfth that of New York City's, had a homicide rate more than five times as high.

I'd like to point out the bad math-journalism above. It's designed to make people think "Wow, 1/12 the population and 5 times the crime rate? It must be, like, 60 times as bad there!" But the two are totally independent facts. Grr.
posted by dougb at 1:54 PM on November 25, 2005

in kalamazoo this summer, someone was stealing the parking meters ... i know that light poles are somewhat more impressive to steal ... but those meters couldn't have been very easy to take off with either
posted by pyramid termite at 2:00 PM on November 25, 2005

About %10 of Baltimore uses heroin, the drug that slowly puts the lights out.

I live near Baltimore, I have a bunch of scrap metal I need to get rid of, if someone would come haul it away they can have it free. Probably about 4 tons. But I dont suppose the light pole thieves are reading MeFi.
posted by stbalbach at 2:21 PM on November 25, 2005

A gas powered rescue chop saw will cut through a light post or parking meter post in less than a minute. I'd bet with a little practice you could pull up to a post, cut it down, buck it into three pieces and toss it into the back of a half ton in less than five minutes.

It wouldn't surprise me if the pylons and vests story turns out to be as valid as the white van sightings during the beltway shootings.
posted by Mitheral at 2:33 PM on November 25, 2005

I hope they're stealing it construct something gigantic. I really want them to be very eccentric thugs.
posted by Phantomx at 2:34 PM on November 25, 2005

The world's biggest base-pipe?
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:42 PM on November 25, 2005

When we first heard this story, a friend and I both turned to each other and said: The Corner.

There's a lot in that book about people stealing metal for drug money -- so it's interesting to come here and see the same explanation from residents of Charm City.

(Oh, and The Corner is a must- must- must-read; it's done by the guy who wrote Homicide: Life on the Street and one of the cops he profiled in that book. It is incredible journalism. So much so that I am likely one of the few people who is dying to visit Baltimore.)
posted by docgonzo at 2:49 PM on November 25, 2005

someone was stealing the parking meters

"My boy Luke can eat 50 eggs!"

I hope they're stealing it construct something gigantic.

Maybe a supergun.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:40 PM on November 25, 2005

>The world's biggest base-pipe?
> (elwoodwiles)

Er, no, the worlds biggest crack pipe. It'll do the entire projects in two minutes, fourty-five seconds.
posted by Ken McE at 4:16 PM on November 25, 2005

Damn, those junkies in Baltimore are light-fingered.

Geddit? Light-fingered? Oh, OK. Sorry.

BTW, Luke wasn't cutting the heads off the traffic meters for the scrap value -- he was doing it for the coins held within.

(Another shout-out here for 'The Corner' -- an extremely fine book that treads a difficult path of being compassionate without being a sentimental liberal kneejerk wankfest. I guess you don't spend the several years researching and building relationships with your subjects without developing some degree of fondness, empathy and compassion for them, regardless of whether you're an ex-cop and a cop-groupie/wannabee.)
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:52 PM on November 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

It pretty much comes down to: If it can be sold, it will be stolen.

Yeah, it's cobble stone streets and York stone pavements in this part of the world.

A van arrives, throws up the 'men at work' sign, digs up the street or the pavement, and then just disappears into the night.

York stone sells for between £40 and £60 a square meter, the cobblestone setts go for about £45 a square meter.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:04 PM on November 25, 2005

Luke wasn't decapitating parking meters for money; he just wanted to. As kirkaracha's link says, "a defiant act of rebellion".
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:45 PM on November 25, 2005

Not surprising. When I lived in Baltimore & the new projects near Fells Point were under construction (remember? Here come the new projects, same as the old projects, except with less stories and better landscaping!) they had to have 24 hour armed guards, because otherwise all the pipes & heating ducts would be stolen just as soon as they were installed. Ah Baltimore: where they stole the plants I put out on the little roof over the basement steps for the rain, the screens out of my windows and the cracked aquarium I was rinsing out in the backyard. The land of pleasant living, where you have to chain down your porch furniture.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:23 PM on November 25, 2005

I have seen this sort of thing before, they are selling the light poles for scrap and using the halide /sodium vapor streetlight to grow pot, no doubt, with stolen electricity.
posted by hortense at 8:07 PM on November 25, 2005

Something mysterious was happening in Berkeley a few years ago. Somebody was cutting the tops off of parking meters and planting flowers in them instead. To my knowledge, they were never caught. Defiant act of rebellion AND free parking!

What we've got here is... failure to communicate.
posted by sacrilicious at 8:19 PM on November 25, 2005

Baltimore can be a very rewarding place to live, if you have a half decent education (that's the 10,000$ Question) , and you know how to stay out of trouble (e.g. dont go lookin to score drugs). It's ....errr ... at the least.. character building. Economy is stong. Guess the joke remains how many Baltimoreans does it take to change a light .... pole. ?
posted by celerystick at 6:32 AM on November 26, 2005

I remember watching the final episode of Barney Miller where Meshach Taylor played a homeless guy who stole manhole covers. Detective Harris, the would-be novelist played by Ron Glass, asked the manhole thief why he did it, thinking he would get some answer about a Freudian attraction to "holes." Instead, the homeless guy said "The guy at the scrap yard pays me twenty bucks for every one I steal."
posted by jonp72 at 1:12 AM on November 27, 2005

I used to live in Baltimore and now I live in Fiji. This piece of news was actually reported yester in the local paper here, go figure!
posted by dipolemoment at 4:39 PM on November 27, 2005

er, yesterday...
posted by dipolemoment at 4:40 PM on November 27, 2005

Reminds me of an episode of "My Name is Earl", although they were stealing guardrails and I think they were steel instead of aluminum.
posted by smackfu at 7:46 AM on November 28, 2005

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