The Fight against Copper Wire Theft

December 22, 2008 2:12:20 PM PST
The City of Fresno is jumping ahead of the curve in fighting copper wire theft, especially in street lights.The City Council voted to get started on a public information campaign to encourage people to turn in potential thieves.

Fresno's Public Works Department is doing something no other city has done to protect the copper wire in street lights.

It's apparently just as easy to steal copper wire at Fresno's City Hall as anywhere else in the city, so the Valley's problem is hitting close to home.

The simple lids covering up valuable copper wire are easily removed, giving anyone access but not for long.

Patrick Wiemiller, Fresno Public Works Director: "In the past, our light system has been designed for ease of maintenance which is also ease of theft so we're putting physical barriers in place."

Fresno's Public Works Director looked around the country for a model of how to protect the wire, but couldn't find any so he came up with one of his own.

His crews are now installing something like concrete under the lids.

The process will cost millions and take months, but with so many dark streets, City Council Members agreed, it's worth the investment.

The Action News Crimetracker maps out crime trends and it shows more than three-hundred copper wire thefts in Fresno alone, just over the last six months.

Many targets get hit more than once, leaving neighborhoods dark for extended periods of time.

Brian Calhoun, Fresno City Council: "Dark neighborhoods are not safe or at least the perception is they're not safe. We can't put a price on the public's peace of mind."

Deputy Chief Keith Foster, Fresno Police Department: "We have to take away the incentives for thieves to steal copper wire in our community."

While the physical deterrents are installed, Police and Sheriff's Departments are working the problem from another angle, making it hard for thieves to sell the wire to recyclers.

A Fresno Sheriff's sting caught a parolee trying to sell this wire at one yard.

Sgt. Mark Bray, Fresno County Sheriff's Department: "It's been very successful. We've identified folks. We've made arrests. We've recovered property."

The recyclers are helping too Bruno's Recycling turned over this surveillance video to investigators, helping them identify a man Madera County Detectives think has stolen copper wire from at least five locations.

City staff will work on the details of the public information campaign over the next 30 days.

Ideas include a reward for turning in thieves, as well as ads on TV, radio and buses.

The budget is flexible, but thefts are costing the city about a million dollars a year.


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