Crime Wave Controlled | Metal Theft Down

Madera County, CA, USA Nine months ago, the Crimetracker showed us a copper wire theft trend that was so serious, 2,000 street lights were out in the city of Fresno. Thieves also knocked out the lights on the road to Children's Hospital Central California, but they're back on and there are two big reasons for that.

The lights are coming back on all around the Central Valley and the street lights are signaling a red light on a crime wave.

In February, 2,000 Fresno street lights were out because of copper wire thieves. Now, the number's down to 1,200. "So, we're turning a corner," said Fresno Public Works director Patrick Wiemiller. "We're actually able to repair faster than they're able to steal."

The Crimetracker showed hundreds of thefts in the valley in 2007, but only about 1/3 as many in 2008. Fresno police patrols in trouble areas have helped and the city's public works department is making it nearly impossible to make the same neighborhood dark twice. Wherever the wiring gets stolen, they're replacing the lids that used to open this easily with lids covered with an almost unbreakable shell of cement.

"They'd have to put in a lot of work and make a lot of noise in order to be able to get through," said Wiemiller.

Thieves are also getting a lot less money for their hauls. In February, recyclers were paying $4 per pound for copper, so the wiring from one street's worth of lights could fetch hundreds of dollars. But because construction is dropping off in the valley and across the globe, recyclers are now paying just a little more than a dollar a pound and seeing nearly empty yards.

But the crooks haven't totally given up. The number of lights going dark in Fresno has picked up a little lately as the economy has stumbled.

"Thieves will always steal," said recycler Randy Tosi, of Bruno's Iron and Metal. "The number of thieves will go down simply because it doesn't pay any more."

A new state law also goes into effect on December 2, making it even harder for thieves. Recyclers have to take down drivers' licenses and thumb prints, and they can't pay out cash until three days after getting the metal.


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