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Tree trimming crews hired by MLGW robbed while working in Memphis

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 9:57 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Next time the lights go out in Memphis and Shelby County, armed robbers may be to blame.

Criminals are targeting MLGW tree trimming crews like never before, and the frightening hold-ups are happening so often, utility leaders told Memphis City Council on Tuesday that it could impact electrical service.

MLGW hires out-of-town tree trimming crews who are uniquely trained to cut branches near power lines to help reduce outages in bad weather. But so many of these crews have been robbed recently, they’re not coming back to work in Memphis. The utility is now way behind on its tree trimming schedule.

“We are having trouble keeping the contract crews here due to robberies,” said Nick Newman, MLGW’s vice president of engineering. “We’ve had over 15 robberies this year. These folks are being robbed, and when they get robbed, they want to leave.”

Some of the robberies reported included an incident in the 4100 block of Thomas, another in the 3300 block of Madewell, and one in the 1400 block of Haywood Avenue, all in Frayser. Other robberies include one in the 800 block of Kensington, 900 block of University, and 900 block of Idlewild, all spots in Midtown.

“And it’s not just their personal belongings being stolen?” asked Councilman Worth Morgan, “Is it equipment on the trucks? What’s the value?”

“It’s all of the above,” said MLGW President and CEO J.T. Young.

“It goes from just grabbing the saws off the truck to actually robbing them, taking their backpacks where it has all their credentials for being in the country and for their opportunity to work here. So, they lose all that,” Newman added.

Newman said MLGW’s goal is to trim branches away from 1400 miles of line per year. So far this year, crews have done about 420 miles.

“We need these trees trimmed,” said Councilman Jeff Warren. “It’s really important to keep the power on. The people who are stealing this equipment are hurting everybody who gets power from MLGW.”

Warren suggested tree trimming crews might need extra protection. Young said his security team has already been in contact with Memphis police.

“And so we are doing whatever we need to do to serve our customers in the right way,” Young told the council.

Crooks have also been busy robbing regular lawn crews and landscaping companies in Memphis. Warren said he talked to a man in the emergency room whose crew had been robbed half a dozen times this year.

We reached out to the Memphis Police Department for comment about this story and have not heard back.

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