DOBSON — Incidents of tampering with electrical meters are on the increase, leading one local utility provider to join forces with law enforcement agencies to pull the plug on a potentially dangerous practice.
This will include an educational workshop being held this week for area sheriff’s office and police personnel by Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corp., which is headquartered in Dobson. The workshop will highlight growing concerns about electrical safety hazards and a proliferation of reports of suspected meter tampering in recent years.
Such an effort represents a first for the local electric co-op, according to Adam Martin, a Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership spokesman.
“This is the first workshop we have held for law enforcement officials to address what has been a persistent problem for the past four years,” Martin explained Friday.
Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corp. is a private, not-for-profit, electric cooperative that provides power for about 27,000 members throughout Surry, Yadkin, Stokes, Wilkes and Forsyth counties.
About half of its users are in Surry County, Martin has said.
Since the co-op first noticed an uptick in meter-tampering incidents in 2014, it began working collaboratively with law enforcement officials across its five-county service territory to identify and investigate suspected violations. These can constitute a Class D felony in North Carolina if a violation results in the death of another individual.
While the co-op has not witnessed any violations that resulted in a fatality, many dangerous incidents have been discovered, according to Kim Blackburn, member service representative at Surry-Yadkin EMC.
“Fortunately, we have not seen any fatalities, but we have seen people do some dangerous things — using knives, forks, magnets, jumper cables and any number of other objects to get around paying for the power they use,” Blackburn said in a statement.
The Cooperative Research Network, a division of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, says power surging through a compromised meter can cause an electrical catastrophe. A short circuit can produce an arc flash bright enough to cause blindness and powerful enough to launch fragments of shrapnel-like, red-hot debris.
“It is a very serious issue that threatens the safety of our communities, so we are prepared to take every action necessary to deter individuals from committing this dangerous crime,” Blackburn added.
Surry-Yadkin officials say they will attempt to reduce the number of meter-tampering incidents by working with law enforcement officials to conduct thorough investigations of each suspected violation, which is reflected in plans for this week’s workshop.
At the same time, educational outreach efforts will continue to increase awareness of the safety hazards associated with diverting current from an electrical meter, co-op officials say.
Martin mentioned Friday that a dozen law enforcement representatives have been confirmed for the educational workshop, a number that could increase as it approaches.
In addition to local law enforcement personnel, including the Dobson Police Department, members of the Forsyth County and Wilkes County sheriff’s offices will be involved.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.