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Copper wire theft becoming growing problem

Recent theft of scrap metal is just one of many in central Oregon
On Thanksgiving weekend nearly 1,000 feet of copper was stolen from the building that was once the Pine Products Mill in Prineville.
   "This is an exceptionally large theft," said Sergeant Jim Chapman of the Crook County Sheriff's Office. "The wire that was taken is high voltage wire, it typically carries 5,000 volts of electricity through each wire, so the diameter of this copper is approximately an inch thick."
   "This isn't something that is typically found in a home or even a business. This is typically found in someplace such as a power plant or maybe even a power company, or transfer facility in a railroad yard; this is not typical."
   Scrap metal theft, especially copper, is quickly becoming big business in central Oregon.
   According to ADVFN Commodities Web site, copper is expected to be sold for more than $3 a pound in January 2007 in the United States.
   "We began taking reports of thefts sometime last year, and it has become more and more frequent," Chapman said.
   He said he has been in communication with other law enforcement agencies in central Oregon and has heard reports thefts are increasing in other counties as well.
   Beyond central Oregon, agencies in multiple counties have come together to form a metals theft task force.
   Chapman said he has spoken with several new business owners who said prior or immediately after purchasing a business, they discovered the wire was missing from the site.
   "The thefts are occurring because there is so much value in people's businesses and supply houses," Chapman explained. "Thieves have caught on and realized this is something that is not necessarily traceable once they strip the insulation off."
   Most people caught with wire claim they are in the business of stripping out buildings and construction sites and this is just a part of their business.
   "In fact they are actually out doing thefts," Chapman said. "Trying to decipher who is legit and who is not is the hard part."
   Chapman said he believes many metal thefts go unreported.
   "I don't think every theft case is significant enough in some people's eyes to report it," he said.
   Construction sites are getting more and more vulnerable to these thefts, he added. Electrical supply houses as well.
   Chapman described copper as a sort of recently discovered asset. "It's traded on the market just like anything else is and the value of copper has gone up."
   He said during the past year his agency has dealt with at least half a dozen copper thefts. "I've spoken with other agencies in the last several days and they are all under the same siege of reports - not only for copper but aluminum is very valuable right now as a scrap metal, as well as other types."
   He added brass is also very valuable.
   "There have been reports of people stealing the brass sprinkler heads off of wheel lines. Anything you can add up pound-wise in a metal has become quick cash for thieves."
   There are metal salvage yards all over the state. Three are in central Oregon, one in Madras, one in Bend and one in Terrebonne.
   "We have spoken with each of them to let them know we are looking for people bringing in odd amounts of copper lately," Chapman said.
   "We are working several leads right now and we are hoping that will lead to an arrest here shortly."
   Chapman said 90 percent of the thefts are likely drug related. "Most of that drug is methamphetamine use," he said.
   The Crook County Sheriff's Office urges anyone with information regarding the recent copper thefts to call Sgt. Jim Chapman at 447-6398.