‘Mining’ for copper costly for victimsDouglas County copper thieves are bold. They have stolen grounding plates from cell phone towers, cords from medical equipment in a hospital, rolls of wire from fenced businesses, copper pipes from vacant buildings and extension cords from backyards.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Douglas County copper thieves are bold. They have stolen grounding plates from cell phone towers, cords from medical equipment in a hospital, rolls of wire from fenced businesses, copper pipes from vacant buildings and extension cords from backyards.
These thieves are like sharks, according to Superior Police Officer Mike Kendall, swimming around and grabbing whatever they can. Where most people would see an empty building, they see a possible copper score. The thefts are driven by the high price of scrap metal, and often, by drug use, Kendall said.
Early this month, a thief or thieves cut 300 feet of fiber optic wire off telephone poles along Sam Anderson Road in Amnicon. They had to use a tall ladder to reach the lines, which were 20 feet above ground, and spend a considerable amount of time cutting them, according to a Douglas County Sheriff’s Department report. The theft cut phone and internet service to about 100 customers in the area. The cost to replace the wire alone was estimated to be about $7,000.
Fourteen copper thefts were reported to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department in 2011; about 46 were reported to Superior police from Jan. 1, 2011 through Jan. 6, 2012. Some thefts have involved long-term “mining” efforts at vacant ore docks or grain elevators which caused tens of thousands of dollars in damages. Others, like the loss of an extension cord plugged into a vehicle overnight, are quick crimes of opportunity. Often, the cost to replace a stolen item or repair damage done during a theft is far greater than what the pilfered metal will sell for.
Copper prices fluctuate based on the current market value. As of Wednesday, uninsulated copper was selling for between $2.95 and $3.05 per pound at TLK Industries, Inc. in Superior.
A state law that went into effect in 2008 requires scrap metal dealers to collect information from sellers, including their ID, description of the items sold and a license plate number. Sellers must provide a photo ID.
“We’ve had good cooperation from scrap dealers,” Kendall said, and the record-keeping makes it easier to identify potentially stolen material. In addition, he and Detective Kirk Hill have teamed up to focus on scrap metal thefts as part of the Superior Police Department’s scrap metal project.
“Like a lot of community problems, the police don’t have the answers,” Kendall said. “We have part of it.”
Businesses and individuals have a part to play, as well. Kendall offered a list of tips to help prevent scrap metal theft. It starts with basic safety and security, like keeping things locked up and checking regularly on outbuildings. Business owners can increase security with better lights and cameras. Any business that has already been hit will probably be targeted or “mined” again and again until it gets too difficult or there’s nothing left, Kendall said.
Marking materials is another way to decrease thefts. There are millions of feet of various types of wire throughout the county. If each owner marked their wire in a unique way, like colored ties or spray paint at intervals along the wire, it could help identify the material if it gets stolen.
Individuals have a role to play, too. If people see suspicious things happening, Kendall said, they should call law enforcement right away.
“Be a good citizen is really what it comes down to,” he said.
People can call the Superior Police Department desk, (715) 395-7234, the tipline at (715) 395-7468, text the keyword “spdtip” and the tip to 847411 or leave information on the department website, www.ci.superior.wi.us/index.aspx?nid=174 or Facebook page www.facebook.com/SuperiorPD. To get an officer to respond, call 911.