Lori Fullbright, News On 6
TULSA, Oklahoma -- Copper thieves are dismantling our infrastructure, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Imagine a family member needs an ambulance, but your 911 call won't go through because thieves took wire from cell towers. Or, a tornado is headed for your neighborhood, but the sirens don't go off because the wiring was taken.
In Tulsa recently, thieves took wire from a PSO substation which cut power to hundreds of people for days.
That's why Operation Copperhead was created.
The price of copper is around $4.00 a pound, which means any thief with some simple tools can make a few hundred dollars.
It adds up, one Tulsa man made $400,000 in just a few years.
"In Tulsa and the surrounding area, it's close to a billion, but it's a multi-million dollar industry," said Tulsa Police Detective Brandon Bennett.
Nothing is safe, including schools, churches, apartment buildings, or shopping centers. Thieves have even stolen wire from highway lights, making driving dark and dangerous.
If you're building a house or have a rental property with no one there, check it daily.
"They'll come to the rent house after a month, it'll be stripped of the a/c unit, heating unit. They take the faucets, wires out of the walls, they'll take the pipes, they take everything," Bennett said.
Tulsa area police departments, sheriff's offices, and utility companies have created a task force called Operation Copperhead. They will go after those selling stolen metal and make sure the people who are buying it, know and follow the laws.
"We're really working with recyclers," Bennett said.
Police say it goes beyond theft, beyond public safety and is actually a national security risk, because metal thefts have actually shut down communications and transportation systems.
There's a long list of items people are not supposed to sell, like manhole covers, traffic signs, but it's still happening.
Even burnt copper is illegal to sell because the thieves are burning it to remove identifiers like serial numbers.