Video cameras mounted at a tower in Etowah County, Ala., alerted 911 dispatchers to trespassers at the site, Nov. 19, leading to the arrest of two suspects allegedly in the act of stealing copper.
Earlier this year video cameras were installed at the tower, which hosts the county’s dispatch radio repeaters and had been hit by copper thieves five times in the last three years.
Copper worth $800 had been removed from the ground. The defendants were each charged with one count of second degree theft of property, possession of burglary tools and a misdemeanor count of second degree criminal trespassing. Dispatchers saw the break-in in real time on television monitors and alerted police officers who caught the suspects at the site.
Video surveillance was used by police in Columbiana, Ohio, on Oct. 7 to catch suspected copper thieves. In this case, however, the suspects were caught on camera pulling copper wire from an electrical substation in broad daylight.
After receiving a tip, police advised YESCO electrical to install the video cameras, which when activated by motion sensors sends an email of the image to the user.
Copper theft continues to plague cell tower sites. The costs to carriers range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per incident, and ground wires and bars are the most frequent target of thieves. Oddly enough, these thefts persist even as the price of copper drops nearly 10 percent, in the face of a worldwide glut.
Copper prices are projected to further drop in 2014 as the surplus reaches a 13-year high in tonnage, according to data from Barclays and the International Copper Study Group in Lisbon, as reported by Bloomberg News. Meanwhile, copper thieves still ply their trade. Here are some of the recent incidents:
Frustrated with copper thefts from its Arizona towers, AT&T is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the thieves. In all, there have been 20 towers hit by copper theft in the Valley of the Sun, a metro area that includes Phoenix and Tempe, according to the East Valley Tribune.
AT&T is working with the East Valley Metal Theft Task Force, a group that includes Tempe police, in an effort to stem the tide of copper theft.
“We are seeing an increasing number of attacks [on our cell sites] this year,” Scott Huscher, AT&T’s Arizona spokesman told AGL Bulletin. “Since it is a growing problem, we wanted to draw attention to it and hopefully stop these attacks.”
Huscher indicated that some of the sites had seen had been hit more than once. To emphasize their point, AT&T officials went to a site that had previously been hit to announce the reward, but found out it had been hit again when they got there.
“It was a testament to the fact that it is an ongoing problem,” Huscher said. “The police department believes it is the same group of people that is hitting these sites.”
A rash of copper thefts has hit Putnam County, north central Tennessee, leaving thousands of dollars in damages in its wake, according to several reports in the Herald Citizen. Most recently, thieves cut down a fence and stole copper wire from a U.S. Cellular tower causing $3,500 in damages.
Theft at another cell site resulted in the removal of pieces of copper woven cable, connecting the tower with the grounding system, as well as three copper grounding bars.
What’s worse, the theft left the tower vulnerable to a lightning strike that caused $7,000 in damages to the tower’s electric equipment, in addition to the $5,000 that will be needed to replace the tower’s ground wires and grounding bars.
The week before, thieves caused $10,000 in damage in order to access $500 in copper at yet another cell site, which was owned by American Tower. The theft was discovered when employees visited the site in response to an alarm that alerted them to the outage of an obstruction light.
Thieves appeared to be targeted locations along U.S. Interstate 40, according to authorities.
It is every tower owner’s nightmare. Thieves broke into the compound of a Canadian public safety tower and stole part of the grounding system, leaving the site vulnerable to the lightning strike that knocked out communications for fire and ambulance crews in the county on June 26.
Only six feet of copper wire had been taken but it was enough to compromise the grounding system, according to Vern Elliott, deputy chief of Strathcona County EMS.
After the storm passed through, the county’s dispatcher was not able to communicate with mobile radios, but the portables, which used a repeater system, were still functioning. Fire and EMS crews would have to rely on the repeater system for the next 14 hours while the tower was fixed.
The lightning strike caused $25,000 in damage to the tower, while the stolen copper was worth $30 to $50.
The county is now considering deploying security measures at the tower site, including a video monitoring system.
“I knew copper theft was a problem,” Elliott told AGL Bulletin. “But now that it has affected us and I looked into it, it is a bigger problem than I thought it was.”
Ironically, Elliott did a number of media interviews in the wake of the incident that led to what he believed were a number of copycat copper thefts at tower sites that night.
“By doing those interviews and telling people that these thefts adversely affect everyone, I seemed to inspire people to steal copper from other towers,” Elliott said.
In other copper theft news, two men in Clinton County, Ohio, were accused of stealing copper from a cell tower, according to the News Journal, after a search of their car by police revealed copper wire, two pairs of bolt cutters and a cut padlock.
A man who might qualify as one of the world’s dumbest criminals inquired about the price of copper at a Cedar Lake, Ill., scrap metal recycling company, which just happened to be across the street from a cell tower. Suspicious, the scrap proprietors tipped off police, who arrived at the tower just about the same time the man began pulling copper wire from a grounding plate inside the cell site. A dozen grounding plates were later found in the man’s trunk, according the NWI Times
He was jailed on trespassing, criminal mischief, attempted theft and possession of stolen property.