Crimetracker - Copper Wire Thieves

The Action News Crimetracker shows that the problem is affecting people everywhere in cities, on farms, even at Children's Hospital.

Ag task forces in the Valley admit it's tough to catch copper wire thieves in the act, mostly because the thieves can be anywhere across a huge area.

They are conducting surveillance operations in some areas, but their focus now is mostly on the places that pay for wire the metal recyclers.

This Fresno County recycling yard is fast becoming ground zero in the fight to stop copper wire theft.

16 surveillance cameras cover every corner of Bruno's Recycling, and zoom in for close-ups on suspicious metal sellers.

They share video with Sheriff's Departments all over the Valley, and the video is the best evidence in many cases.

Randy Tosi, Bruno's Recycling: "They put the DVD in and say 'Is that you? Is that the stuff you sold?' And they arrest them."

Many of the suspects come to Bruno's and other recyclers from Madera County, where there aren't any recycling yards.

The Action News Crimetracker maps out crime trends and it shows dozens of copper wire thefts in Madera County, just over the last six months.

They're mostly in rural areas, but one of the most troubling is here, right by Children's Hospital.

Most of the area between Highway 41 and the hospital is dark at night because of a copper wire theft in November.

John Anderson, Madera County Sheriff: "It's a crime of opportunity and the opportunity is certainly there."

This is why it's often so easy: a small cement lid is usually the only thing separating thieves from the wires keeping streets lit.

Once it's open, thieves can get hundreds, or even thousands of dollars worth of wire, in just a short time.

Sheriff John Anderson: "They rip it out of the ground. There's been cases where they attach it to their trailer hitch and just take off and the wire just pulls after them. The damage is tremendous."

If they're not careful, this is what it looks like when the crooks try to sell wire pulled from the ground.

Fresno County Sheriff's sting caught three people trying to sell this suspicious wire at a recycling yard.

Investigators say two suspects left a car on Madera County train tracks, leaving behind a stash of wire worth a couple hundred dollars while they tried to steal more.

The crushed car was worth much more than the wire and detectives tracked down the thieves a few days later.

But most of the criminals get away, and the wire is very valuable, so the motivation is high.

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.