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Inside the mind of a copper thief: Businesses, police learn to fight back

Inside the mind of a copper thief: Businesses, police learn to fight back

CREATED Dec 13, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
 
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - They have no problem creeping in your backyard, stealing any metal they can get their hands on. Copper thieves strike homes, businesses, public parks and other places, racking up millions in damages. Now, victims and police are banding together to fight back, trying to get into the minds of these creative criminals to stop them.
 
Time after time, metal thieves have proven to be brazen, creative and merciless. Jason Wong -- among their many victims -- knows it.
 
“I had three brand new air conditioning units vandalized, which cost me over $5,000 a piece to replace,” the businessman said about one of his properties.
 
Wong is fighting back, arming himself with knowledge to stop these guys through training put on by the Tucson Police Department, Tucson Electric Power and the Metropolitan Pima Alliance. He is part of the alliance.
 
Business leaders came to a training session Thursday to learn, for example, to install lighting, surveillance cameras and protective cages for air conditioning units. Tucson police created a brochure with more specific advice to reduce theft.
 
Still, Wong knows it's not enough.
 
“If they really want to steal your metal, they will find a way,” he said. “But the best way to combat it is public awareness -- just being on the lookout, knowing what to look for in metal theft.”
 
Tucson Electric Power lists potential signs of copper theft that people can recognize and report.
 
Also on the lookout: law enforcement, who will receive detailed training Friday to recognize when thieves might be at work and know how to respond.
 
“Maybe they've got some bolt cutters, a magnet and perhaps a headlamp or something like that,” said Terry Alling, a federal police officer, describing what an officer might encounter. “They can address it differently. They have that education now that they can ask different questions that can lead their investigation.”
 
Why would a person carrying a magnet be a warning sign? Alling explained a thief will use one to see if a piece of painted metal, for example, is steel (which is magnetic) or copper (which is not magnetic).
 
KGUN9 News reporter Kevin Keen told Alling, “You're really getting into the mind of the criminal here." “We're teaching about how copper thieves think and what they're trying to accomplish," the Metal Theft Training and Consultants instructor answered.
 
Alling gave another example of a red flag for an officer on patrol: copper thieves will often wear multiple layers of clothing because stealing the metal can be messy. With more than one layer, he explained a thief can easily take off dirty clothes and move on to the next victim without attracting attention.
 
Friday’s training for law enforcement will have around 115 officers from 25 agencies, including ones from outside Arizona.