DTE Energy catches power thieves in action

Hidden cameras used to stop electricity thieves in Metro Detroit; DTE says it's a dangerous crime

DETROIT – Electricity theft is a problem in metro Detroit, but DTE Energy has found a way to catch the worst offenders in the act.

"It's a problem, we know its a problem," said Michael Lynch, the chief security officer for DTE Energy.

Lynch said power thieves can be landlords, business owners or people operating illegal drug operations.  It is his job at DTE to find the illegal hook ups and help identify those responsible.  

He and his team set up hidden cameras in locations where they discover an illegal hook up, then they cut the power and watch.  The camera is recording and monitored around the clock until someone tries to do another illegal hook up.  The video is given to police and prosecutors.

Lynch said people who steal electricity are putting themselves and others at risk of serious injury or even death.

"It's extremely dangerous. It can cause a fire in the instance of electricity or an explosion if it's gas and these people generally don't know what they're doing," said Lynch. "The person will know a little bit about electricity, but not enough, and climb the pole and get shocked or fall or something like that and you know serious injury or death and we don't want that to happen."

Lynch took Local 4 to a barbershop in Detroit where he said power is stolen on a regular basis.

"They've never established an account. They've never attempted to get electricity legitimately and they have continued to steal," Lynch said.

Last year, DTE Energy used hidden cameras at this location.  Lynch said they caught Cornelius Baragainer on video illegally connecting power to the building.

Baragainer pled guilty to his charge and received 18 months probation and 80 hours community service.

Lynch said these people charged in these crimes usually face a charge of malicious destruction of property - public utility which is a five-year felony.

Local 4 Defenders were there this week when DTE Energy cut the illegal hookup at the barbershop again. DTE said at least one attempt has already been made to make another illegal connection to the barbershop.

Since 2009, 395 people have been arrested for electricity theft in Metro Detroit.

DTE Energy also has success using reward posters for people they capture on their videos but they're not able to identify.  Lynch said the community often responds because they know how dangerous an illegal electricity hook up can be to themselves and their homes.