Crime Watch: Cases of copper theft - WRBL

Crime Watch: Cases of copper theft

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Copper inside an air conditioning unit Copper inside an air conditioning unit
Barrel full of scrap copper Barrel full of scrap copper
Michael Stephens and his guard dog Bama Michael Stephens and his guard dog Bama
Bama attacking would-be thieves on surveillance video Bama attacking would-be thieves on surveillance video

The summer months have proven to be prime season for burglaries this year, and some thieves are targeting the hot commodity, copper.

In Alabama, reports of copper theft have popped up in Opelika, Auburn and Phenix City this summer. Seth Brown says they don't have that problem anymore in Columbus, thanks to the Copper Theft Task Force.

"In the past they would take it to the salvage yards and turn it in for money," Brown says. "Copper is a commodity item. It's worth money, and that was basically what they were doing."

At $3.13 per pound, copper is valuable scrap, but nowadays reputable businesses won't touch the stuff if they think it's stolen. The task force, formed in 2011, has cut copper theft by nearly 90% in Columbus.

Their method is a secret, but Brown says it helps to have residents on the lookout for suspicious behavior. "Citizen involvement is crucial," he says. "We've seen several thefts that have been thwarted by citizens who pick up the phone and say, 'Something's just not quite right.'"

Brown says business and homeowners should put gates around air conditioning units and other things on their property that may contain copper. Also, avoid large bushes, as shrubbery can provide a great hiding place and work station for thieves. One Ladonia man, however, has another tactic.

"Definitely a dog. Get a dog and they'll do their job," says Michael Stephens.

He works in maintenance and has collected scraps of various metals over the years. Recently thieves took over $2000 worth of copper from his backyard.

When they came back for seconds, he was prepared, and so was his dog Bama, who can be seen on surveillance video chasing them off the property.

Stephens says, "I've been here for over 18 years, and I ain't ever had anybody mess with anything. I had gotten an alarm system just to save on my homeowner's insurance a little bit, and then after they did that, I bought the camera system. Then when they came back and I got 'em, then I upgraded and got even more cameras."

He's working with police to identify the men he caught on camera, but he'll most likely never see his copper again.

If you're interested in learning more about the Columbus Copper Theft Task Force, contact Lt. Steve Cox with the Columbus Police Department.

Jessi Mitchell

Jessi joined the WRBL news team in October 2012 after working as a freelance production assistant for MTV Networks in Los Angeles.

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