Bainbridge--In a drought like the one South Georgia is experiencing now, irrigation systems are a necessity for crops to grow.
To water huge tracts of land, these systems need to be powered so they can move across the fields. "Each section has its own electric motor and this copper wiring goes back to the power source and each of these motors enable that irrigation to move across the field," explains Decatur County Sheriff's Office investigator Terry Phillips.
The systems are equipped with hundreds of feet of the wiring. A virtual gold mine for copper thefts. "If you've got a 1000 feet of it, that's over 300 pounds," says Phillips. Depending on the grade of copper, right now a pound of the stuff is bringing in anywhere between $1.80 and $3.50.
To get the highest price, thieves first have to strip off the plastic coating. "Most of these people that are stealing are going to have a burn pile somewhere where they're burning off this plastic," Phillips says.
That process normally creates a lot of black smoke. Finding these burn piles, or catching thieves in the act really investigators only hope at slowing them down.
"We've arrested several people in the last month but it seems like when we arrest somebody, somebody else is also a victim," says Phillips. Because copper thieves are striking in the dead of night, away from homes and businesses, they're hard to catch. Investigators say they're counting on the public to help by reporting any unusual activity.
Investigators say copper thieves sell the metal at scrap yards and recycling centers. Those places do require identification from the sellers, but after its melted down, its impossible to track where the copper came from.