Counties try to curb copper caper

Freedom Newspapers: Casey Peacock Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office officials say sprinklers such as this one located on NM 88, are the target of theft. Thieves are stripping them of copper wire, which they sell at recycling companies.

By Casey Peacock: Freedom Newspapers

Roosevelt and Curry County law enforcement officials are joining forces to combat the theft of copper wire from pivot sprinklers in the area.

According to Chief Deputy Malin Parker of the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office, the department has been receiving an average of two calls per week concerning the theft of copper wire.

The spike in the thefts has been exacerbated by scrap copper prices that have risen to $3.50 per pound — a 400 percent increase since 2001, fueled in part by a building boom in China.

A letter, with the endorsement of area law enforcement officials, has been sent out to area recycling plants in an effort to help curb theft of the wire, he said.

“The intent of the letter was to get the recycling companies to stop taking copper wire from people who have no legitimate reason to have it,” Parker said.

The wire nets around $400 for the thieves for about 30 minutes of work. The aftermath of a single theft costs farmers an average of $5,000 for repairs. In the past few days, the sheriff’s offices have received reports of the thieves hitting not only the sprinklers, but also heavy equipment with the copper wiring, Parker said.

“It’s a growing trend among drug dealers as a way to get money,” Parker said of the thefts.

Currently there have been three arrests made in connection with the thefts. Other individuals have also been identified as being involved, Parker said.

Once thieves strip the wire from the sprinklers, they douse them with gasoline or diesel and light them on fire. This strips the insulation off, which allows them to get a higher price for the wire, Parker said.

“By doing this, it makes it very difficult for us to trace the wire back to where it was stolen,” Parker said.

In Curry County, Sheriff Matt Murray said though his office has not received similar reports, he is actively pursuing alternatives to prevent the thefts in his county. He has endorsed the letter to the recycling companies, he said.

“We’re trying to make the recyclers aware of the situation in hopes to stop the incidents,” Murray said.

Murray said he has spoken with Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, in an effort to have a bill introduced into the Senate that would require people selling scrap items to produce identification. He has also been speaking with members of the electric cooperative and local dairymen in an effort to combat the growing problem, he said.

“We’re trying to get the ball rolling,” Murray said.

“We’re working diligently to stop this problem,” Roosevelt County Sheriff Darren Hooker said. “However it’s going to take the help of the scrap companies to stop taking the wire from these people to make it less profitable for them.”