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Copper theft on the rise
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As the price of copper has increased so has the number of thefts of the precious metal in Newton County.

"Price per pound of copper has increased in past few years," said Newton County Sheriff's Lt. Bill Watterson. "Which has made it more attractive to criminals. It's an easy way to make fast money."

Once the criminals have the copper, it can be very difficult for police or copper recycling plants to know the material was stolen.

"It's hard to trace because most of the material has no serial number," Watterson said.

Most stolen copper comes in the form of a wire which can be used in everything from air conditioner units to power ground lines. Usually people who steal the metal are at least somewhat familiar with wiring.

"If the average person took apart an air conditioner unit, they wouldn't know what parts to steal and parts were not valuable," Watterson said. "Most of the time these people are familiar with the equipment they are stealing from."

But when thieves are unfamiliar with the equipment, the consequences can be dire.

"People have been killed trying to get ground wires out," Watterson said.

At least one man has died in the area this year from attempting to steal a copper ground wire from a cell tower.

"We have really seen an increase in the last two years," Watterson said. "But most of what we see comes from people who live around here. It's not people that are coming into the county. Other counties around here are having the same problems with their locals. With the way the economy is lately and people getting laid off, a lot of these people are just trying to survive."

Though copper wiring can be found almost anywhere, Watterson said vacant house are the most frequent targets. This can be either a house which has been abandoned or a house which is still under construction.

Watterson suggests contractors mark components which are valuable with some sort of identifier which will alert copper recyclers the item is stolen.

Copper thieves seem to be branching out more as of late, Watterson said. Last week the Starrsville United Methodist Church had copper stolen from five of their air conditioner units.

For those whose copper wiring is already installed, keeping a vigilant eye may be the best policy.

"See if your neighbors can keep an eye for you," Watterson said. "Most often these people are going to be pretty obvious. They are not going to be wearing repairmen suits or anything. If they see something unusual, they should call 911."