We spent three days with JEA investigators and were stunned to see how many people are stealing electricity.
Not only is it extremely dangerous, but it costs all of us money. Why? Nearly a million dollars worth of power is stolen every year, mostly by customers who have not paid their bill and tamper with their meter to get electricity illegally. With that kind of loss, we all end up paying for it.
STEALING FROM JEA
JEA has investigators who respond to 6,000-7,000 cases of meter tampering every year. Every house, apartment and business has an electrical meter that tracks how much electricity is consumed each day.
JEA has the ability to monitor these meters remotely. A few meters still need to be read by a JEA worker. If a meter, which is the globe that fits into the box, is removed from the meter can, JEA immediately knows.
Investigators are then sent to the location of that meter to determine if someone has been illegally tampering with it to consume power illegally.
It is extremely dangerous to touch anything inside a meter box. There are 120-240 volts running through it. If you put your fingers in the wrong place, you could be burned, or worse, electrocuted.
"120 volts can be more dangerous than 240," explained David Edwards with JEA. "120 will hold onto you and if someone touches you they can get shocked too. 240 volts will throw you back."
Edwards said he's seen some crazy things with tampering cases.
"We've seen jumper cables inside a meter can to divert power. We've seen screwdrivers placed in there, household knives," said Edwards.
Edwards said he doesn't think most people realize the danger.
Here are examples of illegal and dangerous attempts to steal power. Even more startling is people will climb a power pole and tap into the electricity.
STEALING POWER FROM NEIGHBORS
During our time with JEA investigators, we found two homes where it appeared a neighbor was stealing electricity from another home.
One home on the Westside was using a meter that had been stolen from a mobile home park. It was done in an attempt to fool JEA by discarding the meter on the suspect's home and replacing it with someone else's meter. It didn't work.
"I can tell right away that this is not the meter to this home," said one of the investigators, who we are not naming for safety reasons.
Each home is assigned a meter. If it is switched, JEA knows immediately. We tracked down the electric box where the meter was stolen. It was in a mobile home park about a mile away.
"Ah, he's checking, is it hot?" Edwards asks one of the investigators.
The man shakes his head, yes. The door to the meter box had been ripped off leaving the wires within reach of anyone.
"It's hot. Look at that, a child could have stuck his fingers in there and been shocked," said Edwards.