Who Is Stealing Speed Cameras From Swedish Roads?

From a New York Times story by Christina Anderson headlined “Who Is Stealing Speed Cameras From Swedish Roads?”:

The thieves strike along roads in rural Sweden, usually between midnight and 3 a.m. They employ blunt force, sometimes using a saw or driving over the cabinets that hold their targets: high-technology speed cameras.

After briefly stopping in September, the thefts have resumed, with the police investigating 160 cases in all. It can cost more than $22,000 to replace each camera and repair the damage.

The motivation for the thefts is a mystery. Could it be high-tech thieves grabbing high-hanging fruit? Or speedsters fed up with Big Brother nabbing them amid the solitude of country roads?

Perhaps the most intriguing theory has circulated in local news reports: that the cameras could be used in drones by Russia’s equipment-strapped military in its war on Ukraine.

Eva Lundberg, national coordinator for the traffic camera system at Trafikverket, the country’s transport agency, said whoever was stealing the speed cameras destroyed 70 of the units in eight days in Stockholm and Uppsala counties.

“Then it stopped for all of September,” she said, adding that a second wave struck in the middle of October.

The cabinets, mounted on poles, contain a flash, radar, a processor and the valuable camera.

“They only take the camera,” Ms. Lundberg said. “It goes very fast.”

Sweden began installing traffic safety cameras in 2006 along rural roads where the speed limit ranges from 70 to 90 kilometers an hour, or 43 to 55 m.p.h. There are now 2,300 speed cameras across the country. Drivers who are photographed while speeding get a ticket by mail.

The theory that the war in Ukraine could be driving the thefts is tied to Russia’s acute shortage of critical military parts as it faces crippling technology sanctions.

Lars Wilderang, an author and military blogger, speculated that sanctions may be forcing Russia to find creative solutions to access components for military equipment like drones.

“The thieves come from somewhere, but the buyers come from somewhere else,” he said. “You don’t do these kinds of big systematic thefts unless you have someone ordering the products.”

Until the recent crimes, the worst these safety cameras had seen were random incidents of vandalism, “someone who’s mad because they got a speeding ticket,” said Jonas Eronen, a police spokesperson for Region Mitt, where three counties were hit. The vandals would usually strike newly installed units, “either spray painting the lens or knocking it over,” he said.

“But in the past few weeks someone has systematically broken into these cabinets and plundered the contents, taking the camera and throwing the rest on the ground near the crime scene,” he said.

Mr. Eronen said an international crime network could be behind the thefts. The Swedish police have long fought similar waves in which teams of thieves from abroad target certain types of goods: boat engines, catalytic converters, GPS units, even horse saddles. The thieves then spirit the items out of the country and sell them.

“Swedish smorgasbord has a different meaning for these gangs,” Mr. Eronen said.

The crimes are difficult to solve because by the time the police mobilize, the thieves have typically already moved on to another region or left the country altogether.

But the police have not ruled out the possibility of local thieves at work, he added.

As of Friday, the Swedish Police Authority was investigating 160 reports of stolen speed cameras, Anna Engelbert, a press officer for the authority, wrote.

But what exactly these cameras are used for has stumped Trafikverket and the police.

The customized Nikon cameras that Sweden uses photograph the driver and the license plate from 50 feet away. The lens will be out of focus at any other distance, Ms. Lundberg said: “It’s not possible to adjust this, according to our supplier. Not easily, at least.”

Speak Your Mind