Thieves target broadband-backup batteries, put public safety at risk

Police in Pierce County say thieves have stolen dozens of heavy industrial batteries which provide backup power for cable, broadband and 911 phone service during power outages.

“They're getting in and out in a couple of minutes, so it's a quick situation," said Shelbie Boyd with Tacoma police, who added there is now a detective searching for the battery thieves full time.

Police suggest the crime is new to this area, but across the country thieves have been targeting cell towers for their heavy Alpha-cell batteries. They keep phone service running during a power outage. Police say the batteries can be sold to metal recyclers for lead and other metals.

Police say thieves in Tacoma, Fife and Puyallup have been targeting telecom companies like Comcast and Click Cable for their backup batteries, which are typically secured behind locks and steel doors of utility boxes.

Police say between Comcast and Click, 80 batteries have been reported stolen. Click estimates their loss at $40,000.

According to a Click spokesperson, Alpha Gel batteries provide backup power to their network which they use to provide broadband and cable services. The spokesperson said the backup batteries can keep the system operating for about six hours.

"If the battery has been stolen and power goes out, customers who get their phone service via the internet cannot make calls," said the spokesperson. Click has 540 batteries throughout their system.

"They're stealing the batteries in broad daylight, middle of the day, two o'clock in the afternoon said Boyd. "These folks are brazen!"

Boyd says the burglars are usually dressed like utility workers. She says the internet companies are asking everyone to call police if they're not sure workers around phone and internet structures are legitimate.

"Don't feel bad or question yourself about calling, because when we show up we're going to be able to identify that they indeed belong there. We would rather someone err on the side of concern and caution and call us," Boyd said.

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