Digging Deeper: Copper thefts - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Digging Deeper: Copper thefts

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Copper theft is a multi-billion dollar industry.

From air conditioner parts to utility wire, thieves cost Georgia companies big bucks.  Two years ago, salvage yards paid about $1.25 a pound for copper.  Monday that price was at $3.73 a pound.  Investigators say it's up to you to secure your property from thieves.

The numbers don't lie, copper thefts from AC units and irrigation pivots were up at the first of the year, but Dougherty County Police say the numbers have slacked off slightly. Albany Police say the crime has remained consistent in the city.

"That's still being consistent, yes," said Albany Police Det. Tim Harvey of the general theft unit.

South Georgia recyclers like Southeast Aluminum say they try to combat the crime, requiring a driver's license, photo, a license plate of the vehicle the person is riding in, and asking questions like where the wire came. They also say they don't give cash only checks. A recent bust between county and city police arrested several suspects who were stealing wire from local utilities.

"Det. Barber and I had made a case on a subject stealing a bunch of stuff from the city and from the county, since then we haven't seen a whole lot actually stolen from there," said Harvey.

A new effort from Georgia Power is helping to combat that, it's called proof positive copper and it's embedded with serial numbers and identification that proves who the rightful owner is. GA Power is slowly replacing their copper wire.

"All the new copper conductor wire that's purchased by the company will probably have the coding embedded in it," said Henry Everson, Georgia Power Albany Engineering Supervisor.

Investigators say the technology is useful and they hope more companies will use it, but digging deeper we learned it may not be practical for all applications. Irrigation wire is thin and it would be difficult to embed this information on it and air conditions use a different type of copper, which is why police suggest marking it another way.

"You can spray paint the actually copper with different kinds of paints that way you can actually identify that they were actually stolen because the recycling companies know not to take that type of copper," said Det. Harvey.

Some companies have resorted to steel cages or chains and padlocks which keep the units from being taken apart, and as more alarm companies include air conditioning in their coverage, police encourage homeowners to take advantage of it.

"Some of the companies actually have a system, set up to the alarm itself where if someone tampers with the air conditioner it immediately alerts the police department," said Harvey.

Police say most property crimes are a crime of opportunity, which is why they urge all property owners to take some steps to secure their property, which includes everything from securing your air conditioner to locking your car doors.

Investigators say legislation that would make it illegal to recycle burned wire could also help cut down on the crime. They say it's nearly impossible to burn all the rubber insulation away, which means recyclers now are taking wire they know was burnt.

Thieves managed to steal nearly a half million dollars in copper wire from Georgia Power last year.

Through the use of that new proof positive wire, the utility has already caught several copper thieves this year.

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