Copper Thefts Rise, Lawmakers Respond

Friday, February 23rd 2007, 8:31 pm
By: News On 6

Local police are looking to crack down on copper thieves. Stealing copper has become so rampant there are calls to make it a crime to be in possession of more than ten pounds of it, without proof of where it came from.
News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright reports a state Senate committee approved a bill that would require a much better paper trail for anyone trying to sell copper.

People who buy copper would have to get a photo id from the seller, and proof of where that person got their copper. Right now, anyone can roll into a recycler, drop off copper, get their money and go; no questions asked. Detectives say copper theft is out of control because copper prices have nearly tripled. Recyclers pay about 90 percent of the new copper price for scrap, which is quite an incentive for thieves. They steal copper out of air conditioners, gas lines, light poles, substations, anywhere they can.

"The bad guys are getting top dollar for it,” said Detective Debra Glenn with the TPD Burglary Unit. “They know they can grab it and turn it around and make money. They don't have to break into residences and steal things to be pawned, they just steal copper and get a quick profit."

People have been electrocuted and killed stealing copper from electric company substations. One home caught fire when people fed phone cable into their fireplace in order to burn off the plastic coating to get to the copper wire inside. And plumbers get copper taken right out of their trucks, and homes and businesses under construction are also a big target.

"Had one plumber tell me that a friend of his was doing a shopping center, and they'd spent all morning running copper through the walls, went to lunch, came back, and it was gone," Leroy Martin with Robertson Plumbing said.

Apartment complexes and churches are getting hit especially hard, with thieves stealing entire air conditioning units, and sometimes coming back as soon as the units are replaced.

The next big thing in stealing precious metals is catalytic converters, for their platinum. Tulsa has already had several cases, and the catalytic converters can cost $700 to replace.

The Oklahoma Attorney General's office now meets with police officers on a monthly basis to share copper theft information and come up with solutions. As for the new copper law, it goes to the full Senate for a vote, next. Not everyone likes the bill, some say it's a bad idea to regulate something that's perfectly legal to have.