Metal theft crimewave hits Daugavpils

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Manhole covers, gutters, even bus stops - all are disappearing from the streets of Latvia's second-largest city, Daugavpils, as thieves steal anything made of metal and not bolted down - and even a few things that are, Latvian Radio reported Wednesday. 

The thieve are costing taxpayers tens of thousands of euros as the benches, road signs and infrastructure items all have to be replaced, as well as causing hazards to pedestrians, drivers and other members of the public.

According to police spokesman Ivars Poikans, there is evidence that the level of thefts has increased recently to become a plague on the city.

"The situation is quite serious. In January three manhole covers were stolen, in March and April one each, while in June 14 disappeared in quick succession. This is a serious threat not only financially, but also to the safety of the city's population. Open manholes can have a depth of between four and five meters, making them dangerous to humans, animals and transport," says Poikans.

The utility company Daugavpils Water during the last six-month period has suffered a loss worth several thousand euros, as the result of the theft of six water and 16 sewerage manhole covers.

According to Igors Prelatovs of the Daugavpils district administration, total losses are much greater and the thefts are getting bigger and not even being limited to metal items.

"€20,000 per year - this is the minimum [loss]. There are situations where people steal supporting poles from trees, or concrete paving stones, in order to put them in their own gardens. We've tried putting metal frames on to guard against theft, but those get stolen as well.The situation is catastrophic," says Prelatovs.

It is estimated that around two tonnes of metal are stolen from Daugavpils municipality annually. Notices have been sent to scrap dealers warning them against receiving stolen goods and threatening penalties of up to a year in prison but according to Prelatovs, there are always rogue dealers willing to take risks despite generally low prices for metals on the markets right now.

"The pig iron price is currently €125 per tonne, and the average weight of a manhole cover is 40 to 50 kilograms. Therefore, a manhole cover is only worth about €7 as scrap. But the cost of replacing it is around 150 euros at taxpayers' expense," laments Poikans.

The more likely fate of the manhole covers is that - like the paving slabs - they will find their way into private hands and appear on building projects in other parts of the city or country, bought by unscrupulous developers who are themselves unwilling to pay €150 for a manhole cover.

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