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In the past four months alone, there have been about 50 incidents of wire theft in Greene County…and most of the thieves have targeted phone lines in rural areas. As KSMU’s Jennifer Moore reports, the Greene County Sheriff’s Department is asking the public to help clamp down on this rising crime.
The thieves are after the copper wire found inside the phone cable. Today’s prices for scrap copper wire are ringing in at a pretty penny—they’re up nationwide. Part of the headache is that hundreds of phone customers have lost service—and that’s an expensive and time-consuming fix.
Major Phil Corcoran of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department says five suspects have been arrested so far this month—and that the copper thieves are getting creative on how they get the wire.
“There are all kind of methods. There are long-reach cutting devices. They’re able to cut some things by hooking them and pulling lines down to them. There are folks who have the ability to climb. Pretty much you name it. There’s a creative way to lasso a line and pull it down and cut it—that’s happened,” he said.
Some suspects have been found with written directions on how to locate poles, and how to climb the poles, he said. He says it’s also a dangerous crime—because the copper thieves often don’t know when they’ve lassoed a live electric wire. There have been many cases of copper thieves getting electrocuted across the country, he said.
He says the sheriff’s department is working with metal recycling companies and AT&T, the phone company hardest hit by the copper thieves. Missouri law says that metal recyclers must now track those people they buy scrap metal from.
Due to staffing shortages, several deputies have volunteered to work beyond their full time schedules on this problem. But it’s still something that thieves perceive as relatively simple to pull off, Corcoran said.
“It’s unmonitored. Who can sit out and watch thousands of miles of telephone lines? You just can’t secure that. It’s easy to steal, and its fairly easy to sell, because it’s hard to trace and track,” he said.
That’s why the sheriff’s department is asking for help from the public in cracking down on this particular crime.
“Any time they have a phone line that suddenly goes dead—if they have another means to make a telephone call, we would appreciate that. We will respond promptly, because that is a definite sign that their phone lines have been tampered with, for one. And two, any vehicles that are stopped in the roadway, or any people who are hanging around telephone poles who look like they’re in a place where they don’t belong—particularly in the rural areas, and farm roads that are unincorporated—give us a call,” he said.
One of the alleged copper thieves arrested this month was found after a resident noticed his phone line was dead and called the authorities on a cell phone.
You can reach the Greene County Sheriff's Office by dialing 9-1-1.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.