Local News

Copper Is Hot With Would-Be Thieves

Posted June 1, 2006 10:21 a.m. EDT

— Copper can be found at nearly construction site in Wake County, and is inside of pipes, cables and other construction material. Now, copper is ending up in the hands of criminals more than ever before.

"They're actually burning the insulation off the copper wire," said Garner Police Sgt. Joe Binns. "It's worth more that way."

Garner police recently charged Richard Johnson with stealing about $780 worth of copper from a Progress Energy job site. It's the latest in what the department calls a "dramatic increase" in copper thefts.

"We've seen some stuff that might be organized," said Binns. "And we've seen some stuff that they just go by, see the copper wire out there, and they'll pick it up and put it in their truck."

So why have copper thefts been on the rise lately?

Two years ago, the material cost about 50 cents a pound. Now, it costs about $2 a pound. Often the stolen material is sold at scrap yards.

"We get very suspicious if someone brings in new material," said Raleigh Metals supervisor Reggie Griffin. "The first thing we do is contact the authorities."

Griffin said he's seen a spike in copper sales in the last six months. He now checks clients for identification.

"If he can't produce a valid ID, we won't buy it," he said.

The city of Durham is also experiencing an increase in copper thefts. Police have reported several thefts, including copper from inside an air conditioner at a community church.

Knightdale police recently cracked a copper theft case, where $38,000 worth of the metal was stolen from a jobsite on Village Parkway. Police said the crooks loaded the material into the back of a stolen pickup and tried to get away. Officers arrested three men and charged each with felony larceny.

"It's quick, easy money," said Binns. "They can take 100 pounds, put it in their trunk, and that's $250 they walk out with for about 10 minutes of work."