A modern-day "Cool Hand Luke" is being blamed for decapitating and stealing the tops of 49 parking meters from lots in Glendale. City officials said they have no other explanation for the disappearance of the meters and no clue to the identity of the mysterious meter marauder.
One police official likened the thefts to the 1967 movie in which a character played by Paul Newman was sentenced to a chain gang after taking off the heads of parking meters with a pipe cutter in a fit of pique. Police said the Glendale meters also were severed from poles with a pipe cutter during the past six weeks, presumably for the change they contained.
Kenneth Johnson, city traffic engineer, said the thief or thieves may have gleaned a total of $30 to $100 in change from the stolen meters. It will cost the city's taxpayers $5,400 to replace the meters and as much as $15,000 to "Lukeproof" the other 2,200 meters.
On four separate occasions at city parking lots--three in central Glendale and one in a Montrose shopping area--the meter pincher has used a pipe cutter to sever double-headed meters.
Sgt. Terry Jones of the Glendale Police Department said it is not unusual for meters to be jammed, jimmied or vandalized. But he said meters rarely are stolen, and generally only one or two are taken by thieves who use them for a mold to make keys to open other meters.
The largest theft occured earlier this month, when 16 meters were taken from a parking lot at the Glendale Civic Auditorium, Johnson said. City officials said they know of no previous incidents that involved such a large number of meters.
Johnson said all the meters taken were 10-hour types, which means they were filled with quarters rather than nickels and dimes found in two- and three-hour meters. However, he said, money in the meters is emptied twice weekly and the most money in any meter is about $2.50. He said the average amount stolen is between 50 and 60 cents.
Thefts in Los Angeles
Tom Conner of the Los Angeles city Department of Transportation also reported a rash of meter heists within the past month--10 from the downtown area. They may have contained about $10 in change each. Conner said that, typically, one or two meters of more than 30,000 citywide are stolen monthly but that the department "has never uncovered any wholesale theft of parking meters" until now.
Glendale and Los Angeles officials said special enforcement teams have been assigned to investigate the parking meter pilferages.
Glendale Sgt. Tom Tate said it is possible that the meters have been stolen to resell as collectors' items at swap meets or in novelty stores. However, a survey of Southland swap meets and antique stores indicates the meters have not shown up there.
Mike Swartzman, owner of West Side Metal Salvage Co. in Glendale, recently purchased 116 outdated parking meters from the City of Glendale for $1.50 each. He said he has had no demand for them from buyers wanting to convert them into novelty lamps or other items. He said he would willingly part with the meters for as little as $5 to $10 each but expects to salvage only the clocks and brass fittings for resale.
Johnson said it costs the city $110 to replace each of the stolen meters and posts. He said the city is considering welding reinforcing rods onto meter stands or adding a larger-diameter, free-moving pipe over the old to thwart the use of pipe cutters. The city earns about $320,000 a year from its meters.
Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg, who blamed the pirating on "nefarious miscreants," called on residents and merchants to watch out for the culprits.