Fancy Warcharging Your Electric Car? Check First, Or You Could End Up In Jail

If you’ve driven an electric car for any length of time the chances are you’ve become pretty adept at spotting both official public charging stations for electric cars, along with the odd unattended household outlet in an unusual yet readily accessible place. The kind of place that you might, you know, be able to plug your electric car’s portable charging unit into if you were running a little low on range… and you really needed a charge.

Of course, it’s always good practice to try and check with the owner of the outlet first to see if it’s okay to charge, but it isn’t always possible or practical to do so. Just like warchalking — which involves identifying and using using someone’s open WiFi network to access the Internet without their explicit permission — warcharging (using someone’s outlet to charge your electric car without their permission) can land you in jail.

But as an Atlantan Nissan LEAF driver found out recently, assuming it’s okay to plug-in could land you in a lot of trouble.

Enter LEAF driver Kaveh Kamooneh from Atlanta, Georgia, who was arrested by the local police department for stealing electricity from the Chamblee Middle School, where is 11-year-old son was playing tennis.

As 11Alive reports, Kamooneh was waiting for his son to finish his Tennis early one Saturday morning in November, and with no-one from the school around to ask permission from, Kamooneh did what many of us would do in that situation: threw caution to the wind and plugged in, figuring the school wouldn’t mind the few cents of electricity his car would consume.

But having charged for just twenty minutes from the 110-volt outlet — enough to maybe extend his car’s range by two or three miles at best — Kamooneh was approached by a local officer from the Chamblee police, who filed a police report against him for theft.

Eleven days later, at eight o’clock at night, two deputies arrived at Kamooneh’s house and arrested him. Kamooneh was then photographed and detained for fifteen hours in the DeKalb County jail.

“I’m not sure how much electricity he stole,” said Sergeant Ernesto Ford of the Chamblee police. When asked if the treatment of Kamooneh was a little severe, Ford was unapologetic.  “He broke the law. He stole something that wasn’t his,” adding that “A theft is a theft,” and that he would make the same arrest again, if required.

It’s estimated that Mamooneh’s car consumed just five cents of electricity during the twenty minutes it was plugged in, yet his harsh treatment at the hands of the local police department befit someone who had used far more.

“He said he was going to charge me with theft by taking because I was taking power, electricity from the school,” Kamooneh said. “I invited him to arrest people who were drinking water from the spigot, but he refused.”

Would you spend 15 hours in jail for plugging your EV in?

Would you spend 15 hours in jail for plugging your EV in?

As 11Alive’s anchors point out, it’s not uncommon these days to see cellphone and laptop power supplies plugged into wall outlets in public buildings. And we’d guess that most of our readers have at some point snuck some electricity to help a dying laptop battery, make an important phone call or just keep their children from going stir-crazy on a long family trip. Yet we’ve never heard of anyone being arrested for stealing electricity to charge their cellphone.

“There’s a culture, a very young culture developing around electric cars,” Kammoneh said.  “I think most people assume it’s okay, especially in a commercial location like a shopping mall or a hotel and you need to charge. With cellphones it’s well worked out: nobody thinks a police officer will arrest them for charging their phone.”

Interestingly, the DeKalb Schools district has not responded to any media questions surrounding the incident, indicating a tacit approval of the local police department’s actions. While Kammoneh admits he should have sought permissions to plug in first however, we think the whole matter could have been dealt with very simply had the attending officer been a little less eager to arrest Kammoneh: a nickel donation.

Here at Transport Evolved we’re more than a little shocked at how this story unfolded. Yes, Kammoneh could — and probably should have asked for permission before plugging in — but the notion of crime vs punishment seems a little off-balance.

After all, electricity isn’t exactly expensive, and if you’re going to charge one person with theft for plugging in their electric car, surely you need to charge every other person who uses public outlets for their own needs, right?

We think this story is one which will rumble on for a while, but for now, here’s our official advice on charging your car from anything but an officially-designated charging station.

1) Take time to find someone in charge, and ask their permission to plug in before you do so. Tell them why you need to charge, and offer to take them for a spin.

2)Explain how little electricity it uses (showing them your car’s consumption meter might work here) and offer to reimburse them in full for the electricity you’re using. If you’re somewhere like a store or restaurant, make sure you tip well.

3)Make sure your car is parked safely, isn’t violating any parking restrictions, and any extension chords or leads are carefully placed out of the way. If your car is parked in an unusual manner and has cables posing a trip-hazard to everyone else, the chances are someone will make a complaint. If the cables are stored neatly and safely, most people won’t even notice you’re plugged in.

4)Leave a note in your car’s window with your contact details on in case someone needs to move the car, or wants more information about why you’re there. And be sure to take the name of the person who gave you permission to plug in.

5)After you’ve charged, write a letter or email thanking the location for providing you with charging. Explain what a valued service you were given, and explain the benefits to them and their business/building to installing an official charging station. Next time you visit you might be surprised to find a public charging station alongside that outlet!

Have you had trouble charging in a public location? Would you have asked first, or just plugged in? And what do you think the police should have done? Leave your thoughts — and tips for public charging — in the Comments below.


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  • JohnCBriggs

    It really has me scratching my head. But let me try to take the cop’s side for a minute.nnIf that had been a gasoline spigot, and the driver had connected to it for 20 minutes, it would have been a large theft indeed. And effectively that is what it is for this driver, it is his “gasoline” spigot. Everyone else (including the cop) has to pay a lot of money for gasoline, so a sense of fairness demands that this EV driver not get any free “gasoline” and should be arrested for the “gasoline” he has stolen. No one would argue with the officer’s action had that been a gasoline spigot, although I do wonder if you need to be in jail for 15 hours for stealing gasoline. I also think a gasoline spigot would be secured in some way.nnShifting to the EV side now, so I guess the big difference is value per unit time connected. In 20 minutes, a gasoline spigot might dispense $120 worth of gasoline, but an electrical outlet might only dispense $0.05 worth of electricity. So theft is theft, sure, but if a Nickel was on the ground, many people couldn’t be bothered to pick it up, so the value of the theft is below a certain pain threshold.nnStruggling to think of an analogy, I came up with this. Imagine that you went to an event at your kid’s school and had to fill out a form. In the process of filling out that form, you accidentally pocket a pen which is probably worth 5 cents. On another day, you went to the school and had to fill out a form and they had gone digital and the form was on an iPad mini, which you accidentally pocketed, worth about $400. The action is the same in both cases, but the former happens all the time and no one worries about it, whereas that latter is a huge problem and, indeed, they might send a cop to arrest you for it.nnI guess the point is, we, as a society, have accepted a certain amount of “theft” of low value items because it is not worth the bother of trying to correct the behavior. Sure, we try to leave the pen where it belongs, but really, if you forget and take it home, how guilty should you feel? And should they send a cop to come arrest you? So, is theft always theft? or is there another social standard at work?

    • Michael Thwaite

      I think that the cop on the scene was perhaps at a loss as to what protocol was so, it seems that he made a report, possibly seeking clarification from his uppers to ensure that he was doing the right thing. It probably went off the rails when it had to be processed and tested against the law. The law includes “Theft of electricity.” nnnHopefully, when he goes up before the judge, who has latitude in the matter, this will be dismissed setting a small precedent I suppose.nnnI do wonder if some mis-information about how much electricity costs, misunderstandings on how valuable EVs are to the nations dependency on foreign oil and all of the other FUD around EVs escalated this from a simple, “Sir, did you ask? If not, then perhaps you should stop.”

      • JohnCBriggs

        That is a good addition to the discussion.nnWhat I can’t see captured in the story in the “tone” of the discussion between the EV driver and the cop. Was this EV driver short tempered with the cop? Because that is a quick way to send a cop off the deep end. Of course the EV driver might have had a very reserved “tone” and the cop decided to take action anyway. Once action was taken, then bureaucracy set in and we all know what that can be like.

        • patb2009

          The cop didn’t like hippies with their new fangled electric cars.

        • Michael Thwaite
          • JohnCBriggs

            In the first reports, I had a hint that the guy might of been being a jerk because he was telling the cop that he should arrest people drinking from the water fountain.nnSure that might have just been an attempt at an analogy (which isn’t a perfect match due to a long understanding that the water is free, but no such understanding for electricity). But it was my first hint that this guy might not have the best social skills.nnOK, I’m officially taking the cop’s side on this one.

          • Michael Thwaite


    • Matthew Sawyer

      John you make an excellent analogy here, and you’re spot on. Many of us, me included, have inadvertently taken those “low value” pens, whether it’s from a bank, school or restaurant. Heck, the gym I go to has a huge container of pens on the front desk because they know they’re going to wind up taken. I think you’re absolutely right — we as a society have come to accept a certain amount of loss as being something less than theft. Realistically would you prosecute someone who took a 5-cent pen? Even if the pen was fancier and was worth a dollar, most people wouldn’t seek a prosecution. The average constable probably wouldn’t even respond to a call of such a “theft.”nnnEVs still being fairly new, however, are a different animal. The average person probably has no idea how much power they do or don’t consume, so if someone called the police and said someone was stealing power, the police probably assume that a “high value” theft is in progress. Is the car gulping a dollar per minute? Five dollars? Ten? Turns out it was sipping a paltry quarter-cent per minute, but the responding officer–unless he was an EV driver–wouldn’t know that. He rightly wrote up the report, but then once that report was examined down at the station, a little bit of research would quickly show it was no different than taking a pen from the school office and should’ve been promptly dismissed.

      • patb2009

        Many entitities give out promotional pens, the trick is making a 110 outlet a promo.

  • DaveinOlyWA

    unauthorized use is illegal. there is no real question here. the officer did EXACTLY as he should have. reported his observations to the proper authorities. after all, it was not him that took the LEAFer to jail. nnnI will admit the LEAFer was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and i will admit i have used random public plugs to charge my ZENN before but then again, my ZENN’s very limited range frequently required it and most people thought the ZENN couldnt use much (and it didnt!)nnnthe LEAF though, i am guessing an neophyte would think differently. betting he did not need to charge at all and simply wanted free juice.

    • patb2009

      i have heard of people being threatened with theft for plugging in at airports, and public facilities, however, as these small devices have proliferated, the society has accepted laptops and cell phone charging as a cost of doing business.nnnI’d hope the real fix here is the middle school should install a pucka Level 2 charger, through Chargepoint, or the PTA should sponsor one.

      • DaveinOlyWA

        I have seen plenty of airports that specifically label the outlets as “courtesy” charging points for electronic devices so have to say not quite the same thing. nnnwe are “ONLY” up in arms because of the cost of the theft. but if allowed to go on, when do we become the “school’s advocate?” when the electric bill is $10 or $100 or 1,000? nnnI am willing to bet that if we heard he was arrested because it became known that he was using the plug several hours a day, several days a week, then we would think differently?

  • Matthew Sawyer

    If an officer went to the school to confront Mr. Kammoneh and subsequently write up a report, that would seem to imply someone called the police to report the “theft” of electricity. I’m hard-pressed to believe that the police department routinely patrols publicly-accessible GFCI outlets near parking lots to see if EVs are plugged into them. And even if an EV was plugged in, how would the officer know if it was done so illegally? The driver could have received permission. Which goes back to my original point — someone had to call it in. I could be wrong, though, and if I am, then that means every person who plugs in a cellphone, iPad or laptop in a public outlet better watch out. Big Brother is watching!

  • ABell

    I plugged in my converted PHEV Prius once at my daughters dance school. The car didn’t need the charge, but just did it for the ‘novelty’ of it. Turned out that the socket belonged to the business next door and they left a note asking me not to charge my car with their plug. They left it plugged in though. It was plugged in for about 20 minutes consuming 500 watts of power so it was barely anything, but my wife thought it was a geeky thing to do so I haven’t done it since.

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  • is wrong!!! – Get permission and pay for your electrcity!nnDon’t be an EV JERK like Kamooooneh!!

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