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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Copper theft plagues UA

    A surge of copper theft across Arizona has left many places on campus stripped of the semiprecious metal, especially during the last several months.

    Copper sale prices were at an all-time high last year and the often easily accessible metal can be resold quickly at dozens of scrap metal businesses around the state.

    There are several thousand miles of copper wire located on campus, said Albert Tarcola, director of facilities management at the UA. Snaking in cables underground, running up and down building walls and hidden in parking meters, the wire is difficult to secure.

    Tarcola estimated about $3,000 worth of copper wire has been stolen this year and the University of Arizona Police Department Web site lists at least 15 incidences of copper theft around campus in 2005 and 2006.

    “”We’ve had a rash over the last couple of months,”” Tarcola said. “”It’s costly for us and it’s a nuisance.””

    Tarcola said he has had to step up security in places by locking up the wire when possible.

    Not only does the university have to pay for stolen wire, but construction work also halts until new wire is delivered.

    Theft has occurred in places such as the Math building annex, the Center for Computing and Information Technology, the Meinel Optical Sciences building, the Nugent building and several sorority houses, according to the UAPD Web site.

    The police department’s investigative unit has been in close contact with Tucson Police Department officials to monitor and battle the crime, said UAPD spokesman Sgt. Eugene Mejia.

    The theft not only is related to rising copper values, but also to an increase in methamphetamine addicts, said Sgt. Tom VanDorn, legislative liaison for the Arizona Association of Police Chiefs.

    Mejia confirmed this, but said it is not limited to meth.

    “”To a larger extent, all drug addicts prey on our campus,”” he said. Students are not involved in the thefts, he said.

    There has been a 96 percent increase in methamphetamine-related arrests in the state during the past three years, according to a 2006 study by the Attorney General’s Office.

    Metal theft has triggered actions by Phoenix lawmakers who vow their bills will curb the crime.

    Out of three initial bills, one has made its way through the House and is awaiting a vote by the Senate judiciary committee.

    House Bill 2314 would make it harder to sell scrap metals for quick money, because the seller would have to wait several days before receiving a check from the dealer.

    It also would require scrap metal dealers to verify and copy sellers’ driver’s licenses, and would increase penalties for damaging property.

    “”Copper thieves destroy valuable property just to harvest a small amount,”” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, in a press release. “”We need to increase penalties for those who steal copper and destroy property.””

    The Arizona Copper Theft Committee, composed of several hundred business owners from across the state, estimated the total damage of copper theft in the state between $50 million and $100 million annually, Bechtel said, with farms, utility companies and homebuilders taking the brunt of it.

    “”We just feel something has to be done,”” said Jim Bechtel, chairman of the Coolidge-based committee. “”It just goes on and on and on – there’s no end.””

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