HALEIWA (HawaiiNewsNow) - First it was copper. Now it is batteries. Thieves who are stealing government property are not only costing tax payers millions of dollars, they are putting people in peril.
Four times this year batteries that power emergency warning sirens on Oahu have been stolen rendering the sirens temporarily inoperable. On three separate occasions batteries (2 each time) were swiped from a locked box attached to the warning siren at Haleiwa Beach Park. Two more batteries were taken from a siren in Nanakuli.
"Under normal circumstances if a siren is not operating, we would have to send responders out door to door, street by street, to do notifications. And sometimes there's not enough time," said Peter Hirai, Deputy Director of the City and County's Department of Emergency Management.
The city can get new batteries for about 100-bucks each, but there are other expenses.
For example, at Haleiwa they had to modify the door to the box that houses the batteries and get new locks. Factor in labor and each stolen battery is costing taxpayers between $400 and $600.
It is money the city hates having to spend, but it pales in comparison to what thieves are costing the state when they steel copper from highway lights.
"About 15 miles of roads, state roads, have been effected and cost estimates range from two to three-million dollars," said Dan Meisenzahl, Spokesperson for the Department of Transportation.
As soon as July the state will begin a $776,000 job to replace stolen copper wiring from lights along the H2 between Ka Uka Boulevard and Mililani and on the H1 between Makakilo and Kunia.
"The DOT made a decision a long time to light these roads once again for the safety of everyone who drives on our roads," Meisenzahl said.
Without lights, safety on the freeway is compromised. And safety is compromised in any community that loses its emergency warning siren.
"We have as little as 20 minutes to half an hour to warn the public where a tsunami might be coming from the Big Island. So it is definitely essential that these sirens are up and running," Hirai concluded.
The city is hoping someone will come forward with information that will help catch the battery thief, but most of all it is hoping that the thefts will stop.