April 15, 2010
COLUMBUS, Ohio – "How do you want to be remembered?"
That's the tag line to an American Electric Power advertisement that warns people about the dangers of stealing copper.
Unfortunately, not everyone gets the message.
Copper is an easy metal to get your hands on, if you are willing to risk your life or time behind bars. The difference between life and death can be a matter of inches. Just cutting on the wrong side of the connector can lead to electrocution.
Travis Akin, 30, was electrocuted last summer in Trumbull County when he tried to lift some copper. He is just one example.
Terri Flora with AEP said many people take the same risk stealing from substations, churches, homes and businesses. They can make anywhere from $1.50-$4.00 per pound.
"They'll steal AC off of churches," said Det. Jack Addington of the Columbus Police Department. "People will literally climb telephone poles and cut telephone wire."
Metal theft is big business, and the prime suspects are desperate to get their hands on cash.
"A lot of times it's to feed an addiction to heroin, crack cocaine," Addington said.
"It's amazing to me. It's amazing to our company that people would take that risk and it's not really worth it," Flora said.
Police and companies like AEP are trying to be proactive.
AEP switched out copper at many substations with "copper clad" which is hard to cut and has no market value.
Columbus police use LeadsOnline, a Web site to track thieves with the use of a name, vehicle or date the copper was stolen.
Not only is stealing copper dangerous to the person trying to do it, but it could kill others.
In January, a neighbor stealing copper from a vacant home caused an explosion which leveled a Cleveland community, damaging dozens of homes.
The price of copper fluctuates which means the demand does as well.
"If the copper is real expensive, everybody is doing it. When it goes down, it's not as popular so I think it depends upon the economy," said London Ohio Police Chief David Wiseman.
Wiseman's department recently busted a man for stealing 300 pounds of copper wire from a First Energy substation.
The rise in copper theft has caused a change in laws.
Metal retailers must now:
Report what they buy
Use legitimate sellers
"We don't take anything that we might think is stolen or misappropriated in any way," said Steve Stevens of Research Alloys Columbus.
Addington said scrap yards also work with police to track suspects, taking thumb prints and even noting what car the seller is driving.
The biggest way to stop crime is for people to report it when it happens.
Addington said if you are a victim, you need to make a police report to help authorities.