Thefts increase in county

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Criminals are keeping area law enforcement busy this summer. Thefts of all types are increasing, but cases involving metal thefts are especially difficult to solve.

"Theft reports of all types are on the rise," said Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly. "People are not working and are depending on taking the property of others.

"Copper is high right now," said Epperly, "but we have had reports of all types of metal thefts."

Criminals often resort to stripping metal and copper from abandoned property and homes under construction, said Epperly.

"People need to keep an eye on their property from time to time," said Epperly. "Also, report any suspicious activity. After it has been taken, scrap metal is hard to track down.

"Recycling plants try to get the information needed to follow-up on reports, but it is still hard to connect metal to a specific theft," said Epperly. "We are asking them to require identification from those who bring in large quantities of metal and keep records on when those people come in so that if we have a report on that day we can connect it to certain items that have been brought in."

Bill Shiveley, Barry Electric Cooperative chief executive officer and general manager, would like to see legislators enact tougher legislation for recycling businesses to help combat metal thefts.

"I would like to see legislation passed that requires recycling businesses to write a check anytime someone brings in over $25 worth of metal," said Shiveley. "They shouldn't be able to pay in cash. They should also be required to ask for a photo ID."

Missouri could also establish a copper theft task force similar to the one that has been formed in Oklahoma, said Shiveley. The task force, which is solely responsible for investigating copper theft reports, has helped decrease the number of crimes in the neighboring state.

"We continuously find poles where the grounds have been stolen," said Shiveley. "The worst thing about this is that it creates a hazard for our linemen, who rely on those grounds."

Thieves who take the grounds off of poles receive around $1 to $1.50 worth of copper, said Shiveley. Replacing ground wires can cost up to $75 when the cost of fuel, wages and equipment is factored into the repair.

"We haven't had any thefts at our substations, but the copper wire has been stripped from a substation in Butterfield that serves our coop and several owned by KAMO," said Shiveley. "KAMO estimates that it costs $5,000 every time they have to put the copper back in a substation."

Although copper wire has not been taken from any Barry Electric trucks, subcontractors hired by the cooperative have reported that large quantities of copper wire have been taken from their vehicles.

"When they take coils of copper wire, they must separate the steel strand that is inside the wire from the copper before they can sell it," said Shiveley.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol completes reports for all copper thefts, but those theft reports are added to other general theft reports.

"There isn't much we can do unless someone sees it happening and reports it," said Shiveley. "This has been an ongoing problem for us ever since the price of copper started going up."

Individuals who see suspicious activity at construction sites, abandoned property or near electric poles are encouraged to call the Barry County Sheriff's Department at 847-6556.

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