Fort Worth Police lauded the work of two officers who nabbed a suspected copper thief Monday and asked the public to be on the lookout for similar crimes.
Susan Chandler, a police spokeswoman, said officers Isiah Garner and Michael Arredondo were on routine patrol after midnight when they noticed a door ajar on an electrical transformer box at the future site of a Wal-Mart, an empty lot on East Berry Street.
“I saw the door ajar and went around the back side,” Garner said. “That’s when someone peeked out at me. I was in a vacant lot. I didn’t know if he had a weapon or not.”
Garner, who graduated from the police academy two years ago, said the suspect surprised him.
“Usually by the time we get there, the person is gone and the damage is done,” the officer said.
According to Chandler, the suspect was wearing gloves and had a set of pliers in his back pocket. The officers found a bolt matching one from the box in his back pocket and a piece of copper wire cut, but not removed from the box.
Oncor assessed the damage at $13,000. Garner said an Oncor representative said “the box was intended to wire the whole Wal-Mart building.”
The suspect was charged with felony criminal mischief.
Chandler said copper theft incidents have grown exponentially in recent years across the United States and around the world, fueled by demands from China and India. Thieves include small-time individuals, local copper theft rings and organized crime.
“Some thieves even risk their lives, and some have died, by cutting live electrical wiring to steal,” Chandler said.
Garner said some thieves are homeless persons trying to get quick cash.
“It’s not usually the kids.” Garner said.
Chandler said that although private citizens, schools, churches and businesses have been victimized by copper theft, “it impacts society on a much greater scale.”
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that copper thieves are threatening the U.S. critical infrastructure by targeting electrical, water supply, communication and transportation services, presenting a risk to both public safety and national security,” Chandler said.
The city of Fort Worth spent more than $161,000 to repair street lights damaged by copper thieves in the first six months of 2011, Chandler said.
As of Sept. 1, Fort Worth received 2,074 reports of copper theft.
Officer Don Hawkins, a compliance officer for secondary metals recyclers, advises citizens to be proactive in fighting this crime.
“First and foremost, pay attention in your neighborhood to unfamiliar vehicles and people who don’t belong in your neighborhood,” he said.
-- Marty Sabota