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Soaring scrap metal prices prompt slew of street grate thefts near Tokyo

An image posted on Twitter by Kanagawa Prefectural Police's Yamato Police Station is seen. Police are urging people to be on the alert for thefts of street grates. (Image courtesy of the police station)

YOKOHAMA -- Kanagawa Prefectural Police are on alert as thefts of street grates spike, apparently to be sold as scrap metal.

    Grates are used to cover storm drains along roads, among other purposes, and there have been numerous thefts in the area around Yamato, Kanagawa Prefecture.

    According to Kanagawa Prefectural Police, between January and May this year there were as many as 32 preliminary damage reports covering a total of 117 missing and likely stolen grates filed in the Yamato Police Station's area, including in the neighboring city of Ayase. More than 80% of the reported damage was in Yamato's Tsukimino district.

    A Yamato Municipal Government official explained that the number of thefts increases when scrap metal prices are high, and the prefectural police believe that the grates are stolen to be sold as scrap.

    Many of the thefts have occurred in areas with few people or security cameras. Authorities say the actual extent of the thefts may be higher than the official count, as in many cases landowners are unaware grates have gone missing. Even if they do notice, they may be slow in filing a report, if they file one at all.

    Yamato Police Station has not ascertained if there have been any injuries caused by the thefts, such as by falling into a ditch once covered by a stolen grate. But it is urging people to be careful as roadsides with missing grates "are especially dangerous when it's dark."

    Many suspected grate thefts have occurred in other areas in the prefecture as well. Yamato Police Station is putting out an alert through social media and implementing countermeasures including patrols.

    (Japanese original by Ayano Tanaka, Yokohama Bureau)

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