Observant neighbor helps cops bust copper wire thieves

Man's claim he was gifted hundreds of pounds of copper wiring falls flat with police

SPOKANE, Wash. - Wire theft bust

Spokane Police have shut down their first wire-stripping party and seized several hundred pounds of stolen copper.

The bust came thanks to some neighbors who have long wondered why the yard behind an Olympic Avenue home was filled with heavy gauge wire and the sounds of an electric drill.

"A neighbor called and reported three people having basically a wire party in the back yard, they were stripping a large amount of spools of wire and that was suspicious to the neighbor and she called police," Spokane Police Lieutenant Dave McCabe said.

Arriving patrol officers quickly grew suspicious as well especially when they learned the registered owner of a pickup truck at the residence had a criminal history for theft and methamphetamine.

"The person who claimed ownership of the wire claimed he was given the wire by a friend. We didn't fully believe that story," McCabe explained.

Just to test the suspect's ownership claim, a property crimes sergeant decided to bring in an expert from Avista. The lineman looked at the loot and let police know the wire in question was definitely stolen from a power or cable company.

"They identified the wire as a utility only wire. It's not sold in stores. The general public cannot possess this wire or cannot buy this wire," McCabe said.

So Greg Hamblen, 48, the man who said the wire belonged to him, was arrested for second degree possession of stolen property. His two fellow wire strippers were arrested on unrelated warrants and the police department was very appreciative of their tipster's help.

"The thefts usually occur during the hours of darkness in remote locations or even inside of a house where people are going through and ripping out drywall to steal the copper plumbing out of walls. It's so lucrative for these guys so it's nice to put somebody into custody for it," McCabe said.