San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Vandalism Threatens Public Infrastructure

The Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) estimates it will spend $23 million this year to repair public telephones, many of which are vandalized or stolen.

Like many Costa Rican institutions, ICE has struggled in recent years with rising costs of vandalism and theft to public infrastructure.

The most popular form of public phone vandalism is to steal the entire phone booth, take out the change and sell the aluminum and other materials on the black market, according to ICE spokeswoman Dalia Vega. Stolen receivers and deteriorated buttons are other costly problems for ICE. ICE pays 97 technicians to repair damages to the institute’s 19,000 public telephones, Vega said. Stolen and vandalized public phones aren’t the only criminal threat to public infrastructure.

So far this year, the 911 call center has received nearly 1,200 reports of cable theft. In 2006, ICE had to replace 81,000 meters of cable used for electricity, telephone or Internet connections. The institute has spent $230,000 to replace stolen cable since 2003. Two people have been sentenced to six years in prison for cable theft.

ICE launched a campaign in December to raise public awareness and persuade people to report cable theft.

Between August and September of last year, 13 traffic lights valued at $3,000 each were stolen. The government also must replace some 1,200 traffic signs that are stolen annually, according to a statement from the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT).

Additionally, the daily La Nación reported that last year 1,484 water meters were reported stolen in the metropolitan area, at a cost of $50,000 to replace. Bridge handrails, railroad track parts, and street lamp bulbs have all increasingly become targets of theft.

ICE officials claim that drug addicts are often the culprits in these crimes, and sell the materials on the black market for drug money.

To report damage to phones or other public infrastructure, call 800-220-9229.


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