Lights out for state’s copper thieves - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Lights out for state’s copper thieves

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Posted: Friday, September 21, 2007 11:53 pm | Updated: 7:03 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The copper thieves have gotten so brazen that even high school football has become a victim.

A week ago, players from Scottsdale Horizon and Anthem Boulder Canyon were left standing in the dark because someone had stolen the copper wiring that powered the lights in a north Phoenix stadium. The teams were able to reschedule the game for the next night at another field in Glendale.

First reported in the Tribune, media outlet across the country picked up this story as a news oddity. Unfortunately, such thefts have become far too common in Arizona as criminals look to take advantage of a recently prosperous copper recycling market. Wires are constantly being ripped out under the cover of night from unfinished construction sites, isolated electrical boxes, farming irrigation equipment, playgrounds and municipal parks, and even along state highways.

As we noted Aug. 2, the state Legislature took action this year with a new law that makes it easier to hit copper thieves with serious felony charges. But much of the burden of discouraging copper theft has fallen on metal recyclers and scrap buyers. Previously, recyclers had to collect only basic information from a seller for local law enforcement. As of Sept. 1, such dealers also have to collect a seller’s fingerprint and driver’s license information, and take photos of the person along with the copper for sale. Most transactions no longer can be in cash and checks must be mailed.

For the first time, recyclers must send the collected information to the state Department of Public Safety, which plans to analyze transactions along with theft reports to track trends, said DPS Cmdr. Brian Wilcox.

“Generally the feedback has been (recyclers) will do their best to comply,” Wilcox said. “The industry, for the most part, doesn’t want to be part of the problem. They want to be part of the solution.”

Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Phoenix and the new law’s primary sponsor, believes criminals will find they can no longer safely sell the stolen goods and fewer of them will make a grab for copper wires already in the ground.

“Arizona will never stop (theft of wiring), unless the price of copper drops down to nothing,” Weiers said. “But hopefully with these changes … the ones looking for some quick cash to buy some drugs will have to find something else to do.”

For the record, Horizon won the delayed game, 38-0.

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