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New law aims to lessen copper theft

SPOKANE, Wash. - New law aims to lessen copper theft

A new state law is intended to cut down on copper theft.

Avista officials say they've lost miles of power lines to people willing to tangle with live wires for a few fast bucks. Those thefts have added up. In the last three years, Avista's had their lines cut 123 times for a loss of more than $400,000.

A 20 foot length of copper wire weighs about two pounds and was worth about six bucks to whoever recycled it. The average person has about 300 pounds of copper inside their home right now and thieves are looking for ways to take it.

Sheriff's Deputies say Jeremy Embler was shocked and burned while trying to cut down a live power line.

"They can make good money. I mean three dollars a pound. You figure ten pounds, which is a small amount of copper to make ten pounds, and that's 30 bucks," said Action Recycling's Glen Ahlborn.

In May, Avista held a drill just to practice what they would do the next time a metal thief went down trying to steal their wires.

But are other ways to get copper.

"He would find houses that were for sale, he would attack the lock boxes and then gain entry into the house," said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.

Detectives say Derek Larson broke into vacant houses to steal wire and even major appliances to get to the copper inside.

What Larson didn't know is whenever he fenced his copper, Action Recycling was reporting the transactions to police.

"I've been dragged down the street, hit by cars, tackled people. Yeah, we hate thieves as much as everybody else in the community," said Ahlborn.

But not all recyclers are as honest as the Ahlborns and now a new state law calls for more restrictions on who can scrap metal.

Customers already have to show their I.D. Action video tapes all of its transactions.
Now the legislature wants a state-wide no buy list, something Ahlborn thinks is a good idea.

"I think if somebody's been convicted of a crime and their main source of income is scrapping metal, they can't hop from county to county anymore and continue to sell scrap metal," said Ahlborn.

Ahlborn says right now thieves are targeting air conditioners because of all the copper tubing inside. They are targeting units both at businesses as well as those window-sized models.

There's a TV commercial currently airing telling people what to look for in more remote locations where it looks like someone is working on a substation or cell phone tower but those workers may really be thieves. Action Recycling donated $10,000 to that ad campaign.

If you think you spot somebody stealing copper, you're asked to call 911.