DETROIT - Energy theft is a crime that can hide in plain sight, and it's happening at Metro Detroit businesses and neighborhoods.
Officials said when there's energy theft, something else is often going on. But many people can't spot energy theft, which is part of the problem.
Dangerous electricity hook-ups are putting lives in jeopardy for those living and working near where the theft takes place. That's why Detroit police and DTE Energy officials are teaming up to put a stop to it.
"At this point, we're on surveillance," Detroit police Lt. Rebecca McKay said.
Video cameras capturing a potential crime in progress are a key tool to stopping energy theft, police said.
"We've had a lot of success with these cameras," McKay said. "A lot of success."
Local 4 Defender Karen Drew went along with McKay as she investigated energy theft cases, such as the one that happened outside a salon on West 7 Mile Road last year.
McKay said she often teams up with DTE Energy officials.
"We do it because it's a public safety issue," McKay said.
DTE Energy sets up surveillance cameras, disconnects an illegal hook up, waits and watches.
"This is one of the cases we concentrate on because this is, again, a situation where it was greed, as opposed to need," McKay said. "In this instance, these individuals have been stealing repetitively for a long period of time."
Police charged three people in the case. James Wiggins and Robert Robinson pleaded guilty to a felony charge of malicious destruction of property. Kimberly Tremble pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of malicious destruction of property.
DTE Energy's security unit focuses on stopping illegal hook-ups.
"If somebody is stealing electricity or gas, we're going to get you, especially if it's a commercial account, if it's a landlord stealing and putting tenants at risk, if it's where there are other crimes occurring, such as marijuana grow operations, or if it's a person that does this for a living and gets paid by individuals in a dangerous setting," DTE Energy's Michael Lynch said.
McKay said they often find pattern with energy theft.
"We find that in a lot of cases there's either drug use or drug sales going on," McKay said. "We find a lot of marijuana grow operations where they're stealing power to grow their marijuana, prostitution, many other things."
Officials encourage anyone who suspects energy theft to report it.
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