City targets water robbers

Published 7:38 pm Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jemison: Where the water flows like…it’s free.

City officials won’t be adopting that as a new motto anytime soon and, in fact, have been working to prosecute those suspected of stealing water.

One Jemison residence had illegally used an estimated 68,000 gallons of water over a period of about four years, Police Chief Shane Fulmer said, in what has become a more common problem for the city.

“In the past two and a half weeks, we’ve had more trouble than we’ve ever had,” Fulmer said.

Three people from two different residences will be prosecuted in April in municipal court for tampering with water meters to allow the flow of water onto their property without paying for it.

In both cases, service had been cut off, but the suspects broke a lock that is put on the meter.

In one case, the suspect also altered the meter to prevent the numbers from turning, making it impossible for Water Department employees to tell the water was running.

If convicted, the suspects would be forced to pay restitution for the water stolen and $86 for the broken meter and curb stop, the locking mechanism.

“We want people to know that it is criminal mischief,” Fulmer said. “If we get complaints or we figure out something is going on, we’re going to do an investigation.

“They’re not just stealing from the city; they’re stealing from other citizens.”

City officials might receive complaints from water bill-paying residents, and the city’s Water Department employees often check the meters of homes that have had their service terminated.

In the case of the long-term water thief, Animal Control and Code Enforcement officer Bobby Tucker was actually checking the residence after an animal control complaint and saw evidence of running water. Tucker knew the residence was not supposed to have water, and the investigation began.

“The Water Department does a good job of paying attention,” Fulmer said. “If anything is suspected, we work together to figure out what is going on.”