How We Can Stop EV Charging Cable Theft For Good

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Imagine you’re on a road trip. On the last charge of the day, already running a little late, you pull up to the charging station. As usual, you get out of your EV, reach for the station’s charging handle, and lift it. But it comes up too easily. It’s as if the cable is weightless! You look down and notice that the charging handle is all you have! There’s no cable at all, and thus no way to get a charge. You look at the other stations and see the same problem. All of the cables have been cut off.

Cable theft like this is a growing problem at EV charging stations of all kinds. It’s not limited to people hitting up home charging stations in driveways now. Criminals are going around and cutting cables off EV charging stations, sometimes in broad daylight. In some cases, whole cities have been hit.

Even worse, there are even some truly desperate cable thieves stealing cables even when someone is at the station charging. In one case, a particular stupid thief cut a cable off a Tesla Supercharger while it was actively charging a vehicle.

What’s particularly sad about this situation is that it’s not a simple criminal enterprise where some guy’s getting rich stealing copper. There is, in fact, not that much copper in a DC fast charging cable. There are also not that many cables around, so even stealing every charging cable in a whole city isn’t going to net that much copper.

Why do this anyway? Because the people doing this go around stealing anything they can, and not just one particular type of good or material. Unsecured bicycles, lawn ornaments, car parts, anything in an unlocked car, catalytic converters, packages on doorsteps, anything they can scrap from abandoned buildings — you name it, they steal it given the opportunity. These items are collected up where these people live, often one they’re squatting in because they’re homeless.

When a truckload of stolen things are all gathered up, a fence (a buyer of stolen goods) shows up to pick up the goods, usually in black garbage bags so that police or neighbors surveilling the stash/squat house can’t see what’s being transferred. Next, another car comes to the squat house and delivers fentanyl so that the addicted people can get high, go out and beg for food, and start stealing things again.

So, people like this aren’t stealing for money. They’re often stealing to somewhat directly feed their addictions, and basically be kept as slaves by the fences and dealers. Stop stealing things and get a real job? No more drugs for you, and also you get kicked out of the squat house. Don’t steal enough goods? Expect someone to drop by and terrorize you with a drive-by shooting.

When these people are caught (assuming they don’t go into a revolving door justice system), they usually can’t make bail. The arrest ends up becoming the best thing that ever happened to them because time waiting for trial means no access to drugs, and thus a chance to dry out with medical care available if withdrawal symptoms become too severe and threaten life. Once out, it’s possible to get out of the drug slave system, get into a homeless shelter, and get a real job in some cases.

But, if the goal is to stop the theft of charging cables, catching the offender isn’t the solution. They’ll be replaced by a new drug slave, probably that same night, who goes around trying to steal anything they think they can get away with stealing, and the cycle of thefts continues. Even putting up cameras isn’t enough to stop these desperate drug-addicted people in this modern version of indentured servitude, because they’re so motivated to get the next high that they’ll steal on camera, in broad daylight, and even when someone is sitting in a car right there.

Actually Stopping Thefts

To end the cycle of theft in an area, it’s necessary to strike the root of the problem: the fences and dealers. They’re the ones coordinating the stash/squat houses (often by forcibly living with elderly and confused dementia patients and mentally disabled people), instructing the homeless addicts on how to steal without getting caught, and arranging for drugs with a portion of the proceeds from the stolen goods. If you can stop them, you can throw a wrench in the gears of the whole operation and actually give a city a break from the crime.

Charging providers need to consider working with law enforcement to embed tracking devices in the cables in areas that experience repeat theft, kind of like a bait package. If well hidden in a charging handle or perhaps in the cable itself, it should be possible to track the cables back to the stash/squat house so that police can monitor it. Then, after the stolen goods are picked up, the tracker should be able to lead police to the people actually coordinating the crime, who can in turn be raided based on that probable cause and subsequent surveillance.

This won’t stop this mode of criminal activity forever, as someone higher up in the chain might find new fences and people to coordinate the creation of new stash/squat houses. But, once they figure out that charging cables are too hot to handle, they’ll eventually learn to instruct their drug slaves to not steal cables from charging stations, effectively solving the problem for good.

Police will need to find other common stolen goods to do the same thing again, and I’d personally recommend using bait bikes for this purpose, as bikes are a commonly stolen good. Other things, like stolen goods in packages, could also lead police to bust up these crime rings in much the same way. It’s an endless game of whack-a-mole, of course, but getting thieves to quit stealing whole classes of goods because they’re too dangerous to steal at least helps people for now.

I know what the next step would be if I was a fence stealing goods that were sometimes spiked with trackers, but I don’t want to give them any good ideas in this article to use against law enforcement and charging providers. But, if you work for a charging provider or law enforcement agency and want to know what happens next, feel free to reach out and we can talk more about the physics of radio waves that I’ve learned as an amateur radio operator. I’m sure we can find ways to stay several steps ahead of these modern-day slave traders as the game continues to unfold.

Featured image provided by Electrify America.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 2020 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba