Copper wire theft has street lights going dark at an unprecedented level

Los Angeles records 11,000 reports in the first three months of 2024; city leaders struggle to respond
City Life


Los Angeles is going dark at an alarming level, as thieves strip copper wire from street lights and other infrastructure. Repair crews are struggling to keep up.


The wire can be resold to recyclers and others, and is fetching an attractive price. Copper’s value on the metal market reached $4.25 per pound in the week of April 1-8, the highest level since January 2023, according to trading site


One way to chart how thefts have spread across the city is to look at the spike in reports about darkened streetlights—often the result of wire ripped out from electrical boxes. In March, 3,880 streetlight issues were reported, according to publicly available MyLA311 data. That is a 69% increase from the same month last year, and the highest monthly total since at least 2016.


Line chart of streetlight issue requests by month since start of 2022


In the 15-month period from Jan. 1, 2023–March 31, 2024, the city Bureau of Street Lighting fielded 1,344 service requests just in Council District 11. Traci Park, who represents the area that includes Venice and Westchester, said the darkened streets raise concerns about public safety.


“When lights are out, it impacts pedestrian and driver safety. It can contribute to an increase in crime,” Park told Crosstown. “Oftentimes, live wires present dangers both to members of the public and first responders.” 


Park said the repairs have cost the city more than $20 million over the past year.


Recent surge

Between 2016 and 2020, annual Bureau of Street Lighting service requests peaked at about 20,000. The count climbed to 22,660 in 2021, then rocketed north of 30,000. The 32,257 reports last year is down 8% from the level in 2022.


Bar chart showing annual number of streetlight issue reports in the city of los angeles over 6 years


Some Los Angeles neighborhoods have been hit particularly hard. Populous Downtown recorded 2,321 streetlight issue reports from Jan. 1, 2023–March 31, 2024. The second-highest count in the period was in Boyle Heights (2,045).


Table of neighborhoods with most streetlight service requests in a 15-month period


Some thefts yield significant attention. That included the December stripping of wiring on the Sixth Street Viaduct, which dimmed the multi-colored lighting on the famously illuminated bridge connecting Boyle Heights with the Downtown Arts District. The Department of Public Works told the Los Angeles Times that thieves broke into utility boxes. 


ABC7 reported that about 38,000 feet of copper wire has been stolen from the bridge, leading to a repair bill of over $2.5 million. 


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The volume of theft is causing long waits for fixes by the Department of Public Works. According to its website, the average repair currently takes more than 180 days. 


Warnings, a task force and more

The thefts and wait times are prompting action from city leaders.


In November, City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto focused on the metal market, warning recyclers to comply with laws regulating copper sales. 


In January, Park joined with Councilmember Kevin de Léon—his 14th District covers Downtown, Boyle Heights and the Sixth Street Viaduct—to authorize the creation of a Copper Wire Task Force. It instructs the Los Angeles Police Department and the Bureau of Street Lighting, which manages about 223,000 streetlights—to tackle theft and prevent further damage to city infrastructure. The task force will focus on the hardest-hit neighborhoods, which include El Sereno and Lincoln Heights


The full council also approved a reward program to incentivize residents to report copper wire theft and provide information that will help the city arrest and prosecute thieves. Additionally, in her budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Mayor Karen Bass proposed allocating $13.1 million for repairs and additional efforts to combat copper wire theft.


The mayor’s budget summary states, “This funding will help reduce response times for repairing outages caused by persistent vandalism.”


Yet the government response has not yet curbed thefts. The city tabulated 10,998 streetlight issue reports in the first quarter of 2024. That’s the highest quarterly figure since at least 2016, according to public data.


Park said the city is playing catch-up on copper wire theft. 


“It is rampant across the city. We can’t even respond fast enough before the thieves are out there wrecking our infrastructure,” Park said. “It’s astounding how quickly this problem has grown.”


How we did it: We examined publicly available MyLA311 service data and Bureau of Street Lighting service data from Jan. 1, 2016–March 31, 2024. For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here


The city of Los Angeles may update past service requests with new information, or recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database. 


Have questions about our data or want to know more? Write to us at