To catch a thief
Copper thieves beware: Thanks to a coordinated effort by lawmakers, utilities, railroads, law enforcement agencies and others, stealing copper wire and getting away with it is going to get increasingly tough.
The theft of copper and other metals has become a huge issue in just about every part of Missouri. Increasing incidences of wire theft have cost millions in replacement costs and unnecessary hours of repair.
Worse, they have led to deaths and destruction for the thieves as well as innocent people. At Intercounty Electric Cooperative, thieves stole two reels of wire worth $32,000. They were caught thanks to a group effort by several law enforcement agencies. One of those arrested now faces 10 years in prison, and he is lucky.
Other wire thieves have been electrocuted when the wire they tried to steal turned out to be energized. That was almost the case in St. Joseph recently when a thief entered a substation and came into contact with a live line. Besides causing extensive burns to himself, his actions threatened public safety when it knocked out power to an Air National Guard airport.
Kansas City churches were robbed of their air conditioning units. In Illinois, thieves stole copper pipe from a home, letting gas build up in the basement. The gas exploded, knocking the house off its foundation. It later had to be demolished.
In a classic case of rubbing salt in the wound, thieves in southwest Missouri stole wire ready to be installed during the devastating ice storm in January 2007, delaying the restoration efforts to families living without heat or light during the crisis.
In the Bootheel, farmers are losing wire that serves their irrigation units. The problem, it seems, is everywhere. With a 25-percent surge in these offenses during the past year, electric utilities are taking a tough stance against these criminals.
This year we will ask Missouri’s legislators to pass a measure that will both toughen the penalties and make it easier to catch the criminals who are stealing copper and other metals. The legislative package being considered consists of two separate bills. The first bill would enhance the penalties for metal theft. The second would create new record-keeping requirements for scrap dealers to help law enforcement apprehend thieves.
Gov. Matt Blunt, recognizing the extent of the problem, has made this issue a priority. Meetings held around the state brought victims together with those trying to fix the problem.
Law enforcement agencies are cooperating to fight the problem. They are being assisted by the Missouri Information Analysis Center, a database that shares reports of suspicious activities and bulletins about crimes.
Missouri’s electric cooperatives applaud the efforts of the governor, the legislature, the Highway Patrol, the Division of Public Safety, county sheriffs offices and others to put a stop to this crime.
Whether these people are stealing from the cooperative or the farmer, they are stealing from all of us. Let’s hope these efforts put an end to these crimes.
Hart is executive vice president of the Association
of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.