Abilene businesses fall victim to copper theft, a crime that is on the rise

Copper theft on the rise, bad for business

ABILENE, Texas - Copper theft has long plagued the City of Abilene and has been an increasing and recurring problem for businesses.

In 2011, 41 cases of copper theft were reported to Abilene police. The number of cases went up to 43 in 2012 and, so far in 2013, 14 cases have been reported.

Townsquare Media, which powers six local radio stations, has fallen victim to copper theft four times in the last three weeks.

"I've been dealing with this particular site just about 4 years and we have been hit more times in the last three weeks than we have in four weeks," Andrews said. 

Andrews said approximately $6,000 of copper was stolen, but the cost to buy and install new copper will cost approximately $30,000. He said the copper that has been recovered is now useless because it is bent and broken. 

"There's no real easy way to put a dollar figure on it because of the time--if it knocks the station off the air--we start counting by the minute," Andrews said. "Every minute we're off the air, it costs money. It's lost money, lost advertising, lost programming. It would just be priceless."

Curtis New, 41, was arrested and charged with state jail felony theft Tuesday.

AT&T had two towers hit this year. 

In a statement, AT&T Senior Public Relations Manager Charles Bassett said "These are not just attacks against our netowork they are attacks on the businesses and people living in this community who could be unable to seek help or assistance during emergencies. We biew these as crimes against the entire community, and we are cooperating with law enforcement to make sure those responsible for this illegal activity are apprehended and prosecuted."

Last week, Journeyman Construction reported 12 feet of copper wiring was stolen from an under construction Abilene apartment complex. Damages are estimated at $50,000.

"We're talking about a serious high dollar, felonioius level of damage that was done," Officer George Spindler said. "These criminals--I don't know what they're thinking--but the consequences could be dire."

The market value of copper changes each day, but prices are typically more than $3 per pound. Thieves often steal insulated wiring, which is worth more when they strip the insulation before selling it.

Abilene City Council passed a metal ordinance in December 2012 to force salvage yards and precious metal buyers to report each transaction to LeadsOnline and to force a temporary hold on the sale of recently purchased items. The ordinance was designed to give police more time to successfully investigate thefts. 

Wayne Lanham, owner of the Texas Metals and Recycling Company, said he welcomed the ordinance. 

"If you've been doing this any length of time at all, you can tell when a customer is supposed to have the material they're bringing in or not. And if they don't, we ask them 'where did you get this at? Are you supposed to have this?' And we've had some people plum leave, get upset," Lanham said. "If we as an industry don't police ourselves...the ordinances that we have placed upon us to curtail copper theft [are] only going to get worse."

Lanham said he hopes Abilene police will eventually work to prevent the sale of stolen copper and metals outside the city.

"The only thing we see--that I would love to happen--is that Abilene get with local law enforcements from all the surrounding communities that have scrap yards and try to get something similar on board for them," Lanham said.  

If you see a theft in progress, call 911 immediately. If you have information on unsolved copper thefts, anonymous tips can be called in to Abilene Crime Stoppers at (325) 676-TIPS.

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