Thefts of manhole covers and storm drain grates a growing concer - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Thefts of manhole covers, storm drain grates are a growing concern

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(WMC-TV) – Thieves are focusing on unique items these days -- manhole covers and storm drain grates.  And police say not only is expensive to the city, but it could be dangerous for kids.

Allen Iskiwitz's recycling company in North Memphis buys all kinds of scrap. 

"All kinds of metal," said Iskiwitz.

But he doesn't buy what's on a list hanging near the door, which includes manhole covers and storm drain grates.

"According to the ordinances we're not supposed to buy that," said Iskiwitz. 

The city of Memphis says someone is buying it because thefts of the cast iron drainage components are on the rise.

"You're talking 1,200 to 1,500 in the current trend of these being stolen," said public works deputy director Robert Knecht.

It's a cost to taxpayers that quickly adds up.

"$150, $150, and about $250 to $300," said Knecht while pointing out different parts of an average storm drain grate.

Knecht believes the economy-driven crime is fairly difficult to carry out considering the weight of the grates and manhole covers.

Memphis Police say Eddie Brown needed the help of at least one buddy to lift a grate into the trunk of his car.  He was recently charged with theft of city property.

But the crime is not only a burden on city resources.

"Some of these are 10 feet deep," said Knecht.  "A child could get seriously hurt in this situation and an adult could seriously get hurt."

So far, that has not happened.  However, Knecht believes it's only a matter of time unless all scrap metal dealers become as scrupulous as Mr. Iskiwitz.

"We told them no matter what you do in the city," said Iskiwitz.  "You go across the river and the ordinances are not the same."

The city of Houston, Texas has a locking system for some of its drainage grates and covers.  That's something Memphis may have to consider buying if things don't improve.  The most important thing is to report such thefts to police.

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