Authorities see increase in scrap metal, copper theft

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 28, 2008

Area law enforcement officials say copper and scrap metal theftis the fad crime of the year, as they’ve seen their share of it inthe area.

Copiah County Chief Deputy Tony Hemphill said his county has hadplenty of issues with stolen scrap metal. However, the most drasticexample he’s seen so far is an incident in which the perpetratorused what would seem to be excessive force.

“We had an incident where there was a break-in at a trailerhouse not too long ago, and instead of them taking the usual stuff,they beat the walls out of the trailer to get the wire,” hesaid.

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Hemphill said that particular crime is a hard one to follow,because the traditional means of gathering evidence are somewhatineffective.

“As far as fingerprints, you don’t have all that,” he said.”They took all that.”

Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said while copper theft isalways an issue, his department hasn’t seen anything of themagnitude of the wall destruction that went on in the neighboringcounty.

“It’s an ongoing problem, but we’ve had nothing like that,” hesaid. “We’ve got various reports of people with copper and otherscrap metal coming up missing. But as far as anything major, wehaven’t had that.”

Lincoln County Chief Deputy Johnny Hall said it’s not justcopper wire that’s being stolen. People are taking the copperinsides out of air conditioning units as well.

“They’re gutting AC units and taking out the coils,” he said.”They’re not taking the whole unit, just the coils to sellthem.”

Wesson Police Chief Steve Carlisle said Wesson has had a fewcases of scrap metal theft, but that his men had caught two peoplein the act of stealing copper wire out of a building. That, hesaid, had quieted things down for a little while.

Carlisle said it takes hard work to steal wire out of abuilding.

“By the time you’ve broken into an old building and pulled about15-20 feet of copper wire out and you’ve gotten all dirty and doneall that work, you’d probably have done better just to get yourselfa job,” he said.

Brookhaven Assistant Police Chief Nolan Jones said the city hashad some issues with copper wire theft. Just last week a spool ofwire was stolen, he said.

“Copper is high dollar right now and if they can get it, they’regoing to,” he said. “It’s at random, though, it’s not an everynight thing. I guess you could say it’s generally isolatedincidents.”

Hemphill said in recent years Copiah County has had its share ofproblems with cell phone towers, which have a high amount of copperwire. But it seems thieves have turned their eyes to othersources.

“We had a couple of cell towers get hit a while back. Nowthey’re going to unoccupied outer buildings,” he said. “If they seestuff in the spools, they’ll take that, too.”

And unlike in Wesson, where rendering specific thievesineffective seems to have solved a major part of the problem,Hemphill said the problem seems to be countywide.

“At this point of it, it looks like a rash of different people,”he said. “It’s so sporadic throughout the county and it’s notconcentrated on one area. There’s nothing to indicate that it’s oneparticular person.”

Officials say scrap metal theft charges can vary based upon theamount and value of the metal that is stolen.

It’s important for local residents to be aware that scrap metalthieves often ride around neighborhoods casing what is left inpeople’s yards.

“The public needs to be aware of leaving stuff in plain view,”Hall said. “People are riding around and taking little scraps andthings, but if they can get the copper they will.”

Jones said authorities are also seeing the theft of things aslarge as junk cars.

“We’ve had a few vehicles that’s aren’t running,” he said. “I’mseeing people hauling scrap all over, and they’re cleaning thecounty up.”

Jones said it seems recently selling scrap metal has become analternative to going to the junkyard.

“I guess the price of scrap went up. I’ve seen them go by withold rusty culverts and deep freezes,” he said. “It looks like it’sstuff that’s been going to the dump is going to the scrap yardnow.”

It’s becoming harder to sell stolen scrap now, though, Jonessaid. He said local authorities have spoken to metal yards abouttaking records on people who bring in metal for resale.

“I’ve talked to them and others have talked to them, and we’veasked them try to get good records,” he said. “They did tell methey were getting records now.”