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Copper thieves force you to go wireless

Copper thieves are eyeing telecom lines strung from utility poles like these.

Copper thieves force you to go wireless

CREATED Jan 24, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
 
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - It is a crime so rampant, the Pima County attorney calls it a "plague." Copper thieves, taking advantage of rising metal prices, have set their sights on the sky in Southern Arizona. Their dirty work could leave you without phone and Internet. Now, one telecommunications company is fighting back.
 
“When I say the words ‘copper thefts,’ what goes through your mind?” KGUN9 News reporter Kevin Keen asked county attorney Barbara LaWall. “Copper theft is an enormous problem here in Pima County. It's a plague, actually.”
 
A plague the lead county attorney says could spread to your backyard. Thieves could snip off your copper wires and yank out your metal piping for a quick buck.
 
It’s spread to businesses as well. CenturyLink, formerly Qwest, says thieves are satisfying their criminal appetite by going to great heights to steal its telecom cables, which are strung above our streets.
 
“Underneath this insulation, you can see there's a lot of wires in here,” company vice president and general manager Guy Gunther demonstrated. “Inside these wires are the copper. You can barely see it.”
 
Gunther says to steal and sell those wires, his lines were cut 40 times in Tucson and Pima County last year. He says there's no sign the brazen thieves will slow down.
 
“What we've seen is some of these thefts are happening in the middle of the day," he said. "In fact, we caught a perpetrator on Friday. He was seen cutting this down--looked like a CenturyLink technician, was in a bucket truck, was wearing a safety vest, was wearing a safety harness, had cones outside.”
 
Repairs have cost CenturyLink hundreds of thousands of dollars.
 
There's another concern because those Internet and phone lives are live. “There are customers who depend on these phone lines as their lifeline--literally, their lifeline,” Gunther said. “Whether they're children, they're elderly, people in need of medical assistance, when these lines go down because of acts of vandalism, which essentially what this is, we have customers who are out.”
 
It's enough to make the company partner with Crime Stoppers to offer a $1,000 cash reward for information leading to an arrest. Call 88-CRIME with those tips.
 
The sheriff's department and the county attorney's office are also encouraging people to report suspicious activity the moment you see it. They say if you see a utility crew that doesn't seem legitimate, call 9-1-1.