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Archive for Sunday, September 3, 2006

Copper theft more common as price rises

September 3, 2006

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Copper has become the commodity of choice for thieves in Oklahoma in recent months, and an electric company and the state's attorney general are teaming up to do something about it.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. and Atty. Gen. Drew Edmondson on Friday announced an effort to coordinate and disseminate the rising volume of copper theft investigative information among local, county and state law enforcement agencies.

"The price of copper has risen dramatically in recent months to nearly triple its normal price and that is making it more attractive for thieves to steal it, not only from electrical substations, but from homes, businesses and wherever copper is found," said Tim Hartley, OG&E spokesman.

Edmondson said county sheriffs and local police across the state are investigating copper thefts.

"Whether these are unrelated events or a coordinated criminal enterprise, the security of our state's power grid will be better-protected though a coordinated law enforcement response," he said in a statement prepared for a news conference at an OG&E substation in Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb.

"This effort will help investigators more easily track suspects and may uncover trends and tendencies that will aid investigations and prosecutions," Edmondson said.

Edmondson has volunteered the investigative services and subpoena powers of the state's Multicounty Grand Jury to assist police, sheriffs and district attorneys with copper theft investigations.

This summer, the price of copper has jumped from around $1.50 to more than $4 per pound.

Officials of OG&E said more is at stake than electric service interruptions and the costly loss of equipment.

"Damaging an electric substation is an invitation for disaster," said Paul Renfrow, vice president for Public Affairs. "Substations are dangerous places, especially after equipment has been stripped and damaged.

"These thieves put the public at risk when they cut fencing or tear down gates that were put in place to restrict access. This makes curious children especially vulnerable."

He said repairing the damage also is treacherous for OG&E workers.

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