Cable bandits beware.
Coeur d’Alene police and Cablevision officials say they’re cracking down on people who tap into cable services without paying.
“Most people don’t look at it as a theft, but it’s no different than walking into a store and walking out with $500 in merchandise,” said Steve Delgado, Cablevision general manager. “We’re not dropping criminal charges any more. We will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”
Police Capt. Carl Bergh said an increasing number of cable service thefts are being reported to the department.
Cablevision reported 11 thefts during all of 1994. The company has already reported eight in just the first two months of 1995, he said.
Delgado said the number of reported thefts is increasing because the company is taking a hard line.
“Cablevision is just in the position that we are not going to tolerate it any more,” said David Gray, the Cablevision technician responsible for investigating the thefts.
Although Cablevision tries to protect its services, stealing cable channels is relatively easy.
In some places, a small silver cable access box hangs high up on a telephone pole. In other places, a metal box encases the cable equipment on the side of an apartment complex - a simple padlock keeps it shut.
But all it takes is a ladder to climb up the pole or bolt cutters to break the lock.
The devices used to split one cable line into two can then be bought at almost any electronics store, said police Detective Mike Wolf.
Cable thieves don’t just steal the basic cable services, they also steal the various movie channels.
A cable subscriber who doesn’t pay for the movie channels has a “trap” put on his line. The trap keeps out premium channels such as Home Box Office. Some cable thieves break into the box and remove the trap, said Gerald Boyd, Cablevision plant manager.
Cablevision often finds out about the thefts through neighbors.
“Nobody likes to pay for something when they know somebody down the street is getting it for free illegally,” Delgado said.
Splitting a line can also weaken the neighbor’s cable signal, causing them to complain to the company. When repair personnel come to fix the problem, they find the theft, Delgado said.
According to Idaho law, theft of telecommunication services is a misdemeanor crime. A first conviction can land a person in jail for up to six months. A second conviction can mean up to a year behind bars.
Cable thieves may be fined $10 for every day they used the illegal hookup along with other fines.
Wolf said all of the people cited so far this year have denied illegally connecting to cable.
“They say, ‘It was here when I moved in so I assumed it was included in the rent,”’ he said.
Wolf is skeptical of their excuses, but pointed out that it doesn’t matter whether they hooked the illegal cable up themselves.
According to state law it is illegal to simply receive the cable channels without paying for them.
Delgado said he estimates the company runs across more than 100 illegal hookups a year in Kootenai County, costing Cablevision hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
Cable employees are now watching more carefully for illegal hookups and will randomly audit neighborhoods, Delgado said.
In the past, cable employees sometimes disconnected the illegal hookup and either watched to make sure it didn’t happen again or had the accused pay for the programming they received, Gray said. In those cases, authorities were not notified.
Not any more. The company will now pursue criminal charges whenever possible, Delgado said.
“They’re stealing from us,” Gray said. “It needs to be nipped in the bud.”