Million-dollar loss that bothers everyone

Million-dollar loss that bothers everyone
Million-dollar loss that bothers everyone

In addition to hampering traffic, the theft of copper wires and traffic light controllers at signals in the capital of Minas Gerais has also damaged public coffers. According to the City of Belo Horizonte (PBH), in 2023 R$ 2,262,466.62 were spent on the repair. The theft of essential items for the operation of the signs is the main reason given for the high amount spent on maintenance.

In the capital of Minas Gerais there are 1,106 signalized intersections, distributed across the nine regions and the copper cables present in street signs are already a favorite among thieves, who steal the material for sale in scrapyards. In 2023, the scenario was different, since the main item stolen and responsible for increasing city hall spending on signal maintenance were the traffic light controls. This equipment allows signal programming, such as opening and closing times, and was defined by Júlio da Conceição, Traffic Light and Programming Manager at BHTrans, as the “heart of traffic lights”.

“It’s an atypical scenario, 64 controllers were stolen and the value of each one, on average, is 32 thousand reais, which significantly increases what is spent on maintenance but, generally, this does not happen in this volume”, he explains.

Cable theft has already decreased. In December 2023, around 300 meters of cables were stolen, which may seem like a lot if you don’t compare it to the previous year. In 2022, the amount of wiring stolen in a single month reached 13 thousand meters. “One of the actions that BHTrans implemented to prevent this type of theft is the installation of bimetallic cables, which is copper-plated steel wiring, which has no attractive (value). Because of this, theft has dropped significantly”, says Júlio.

The scenario that concerns us now is the theft of controllers, the motivation for which is still being studied by BHTrans and other bodies. “We still don’t really understand why this is the case and we’re trying to find an explanation. It may be that there is some clandestine market, but we at BHTrans are not aware of it. Some controllers have the power boards and CPU removed, but these are devices that only work at traffic lights. We and the police intelligence department are carrying out a study to understand this situation,” he explains.

Among the main losses to the population from the theft of cables and traffic signal controllers is traffic congestion caused by the maintenance required after the thieves’ actions. According to PBH, the time taken, on average, to restore a faulty traffic light is up to 1h30, when the problem is with the equipment. “A failure in the electronic system, for example, can be corrected more quickly online. In cases of theft or collisions, depending on the damage and extent of the loss, the time to replace the material and return to operation may be longer”, explained the city hall.

Also according to the municipal Executive, there is a BHTrans traffic signal maintenance team that works daily on the city’s roads 24 hours a day. “The occurrences found are resolved or measures are adopted so that the correction can be made as soon as possible.”, he highlighted.

Measures to curb theft

In addition to BHTrans, the Municipal Civil Guard and other bodies are responsible for monitoring in the event of theft and theft of cables or traffic signal controllers. Among the actions instituted is the Agile Problem Solving Methodology Project (MASP), which is applied in the capital under the coordination of the Belo Horizonte Integrated Operations Center (COP-BH). In it, BHTrans, the Municipal Guard, the Military and Civil Police, the Undersecretariat of Inspection (SUFIS), the Urban Cleaning Superintendency (SLU), and Cemig, with the partnership of Operator OI, work together.

“The MASP Project enables the immediate sharing of information related to occurrences of cable theft, to quickly involve all affected sectors in solving the problem generated by it. This makes it possible to remedy the consequence, whether it be the lack of traffic light signaling (with BHTRANS issuing traffic light alerts to avoid congestion and accidents) or the power outage (when it comes to Cemig cables), for example.”, he explained, through note, the Municipal Secretariat for Security and Prevention (SMSP).

Even so, Júlio highlights that arresting those responsible for theft of cables and controllers is still difficult. “We have the center that detects when theft happens. As soon as the alarm sounds, the Municipal Guard is called and immediately sends a vehicle to the location. However, in the time it took for the agents to travel, the perpetrator of the crime had already escaped, because it is a very quick type of theft,” he explains.

Another measure, already mentioned by the Traffic Light and Programming manager at BHTrans, is the exchange of electrical power cables at traffic lights in Belo Horizonte with unattractive wires. The objective of the measure, which has been implemented since May 2022, is to combat a series of cable thefts in the capital. After the action, the city hall states that spending on replacing cables has been gradually reducing. The replacement has been done gradually.

“In addition, we have also placed traffic light controllers in a higher position to prevent theft, which makes our maintenance activities more difficult, as this requires more specific equipment. The junction boxes, where the cables are connected, have been concreted and sealed, which has made it difficult for thieves to act”, explains Júlio. “We always try to carry out maintenance as quickly as possible after the theft, so that citizens are not harmed by the traffic light being turned off. We have been increasingly trying to reduce this response time to incidents”, concludes the Traffic Light and Programming manager at BHTrans.

MPMG assesses impacts of cable theft

Another way to prevent theft of power and transmission cables is being carried out by the Public Ministry of Minas Gerais (MPMG), which is promoting data collection on the impacts caused by criminal actions in Minas Gerais.

On the 20th, the MPMG held a meeting with Companhia Energética de Minas Gerais (Cemig), Conexis Brasil Digital (Association of Telecommunications and Connectivity Companies), the Minas Gerais Supermarket Association (Amis) and the Brazilian Association of Pharmacy and Drugstore Chains (Abrafarma).

At the meeting, the consequences of the subtraction of power cables in the state were discussed. This is because crime can harm the functioning of traffic lights, hospitals and public services, in addition to the activities and work of thousands of people. Small thefts that occur in establishments were also discussed at the meeting.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office must collect the data provided by associations representing pharmacies and supermarkets by April 12th. In parallel, the MP carries out actions to prevent cable theft.

The prosecutor and coordinator of Caocrim, Marcos Paulo de Souza Miranda, states that there is a public interest in understanding the complexity of the issue and the impacts that can be generated by the subtraction of power cables in Minas Gerais.

“The Public Prosecutor’s Office now faces (cable theft) not only as a property crime, but also as a crime that harms the interests of society as a whole,” said the prosecutor.

According to data from Conexis Brasil, in 2023, more than 848 thousand miners were left without access to communication services due to cable theft, placing Minas in fourth place in the ranking of states with the highest number of stolen or stolen cables. More than 500,000 meters of cables were stolen or stolen.

* Intern under the supervision of sub-editor Gabriel Felice

The article is in Portuguese

Tags: Milliondollar loss bothers



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