A thief climbed 200 feet in the air on a cell tower to steal some of the metal that used to be used in the penny.
And in October, more than 1,000 feet of copper cables, valued at $30,000, were cut and stolen from an AT&T cell tower on Robertson Street.
“It’s happening more and more across the state,” said Ann Elsas, AT&T spokeswoman for Georgia. “We have seen a significant increase in copper theft over the past few years and believe thieves are selling the copper locally.”
With copper prices at high levels, thieves know that the metal is worth a pretty penny.
AT&T works to report all copper thefts to law enforcement.
“We take these thefts very seriously because when copper cables are cut, customers can’t call emergency services,” Elsas said.
AT&T has implemented a copper cable reward program for tips from individuals or businesses on copper thieves. It also has joined copper theft tasks forces across the state to try and stop the costly thefts.
“A small section of copper will likely yield $10 to $20 for the thief who sells it to a recycler or scrap dealer, but it costs AT&T thousands of dollars in materials and man-hours to replace the cable,” Elsas said.
The LaGrange utility department also has had problems with copper thieves.
“We have had some experience with it,” said Patrick Bowie, director of utilities. “It’s sporadic with us. We’ll have a little here and there.”
He said there was an issue with copper being stolen at the industrial substation, and thieves often cut the wires to steal them.
“Even a grounded wire is dangerous,” Bowie said. “As soon as you cut that wire … you can get electrocuted and shocked. It’s dangerous not only to the person stealing the wire, but also to works who have to go out and fix it.
“It’s crazy because the value of the copper is minimal compared to the damage it causes.”
The London Metal Exchange and Commodity Exchange Inc. monitor and report the market prices of industrial metals such as copper, aluminum, steel and tin.
Copper was valued at about $3.51 per pound this morning, according to COMEX. Local scrap metal recyclers pay between $2 and $2.25 for copper, with prices varying on the type of copper and what form it’s in.
“The extraordinary increase in the value of copper, nearly 50 percent in the last five years, has made it an exceptionally attractive target,” for thieves, inspector general Gregory Friedman wrote in an August memorandum to the U.S. secretary of the Department of Energy.
LaGrange police detective Craig Wheeler said most of the metal thefts in the city have been copper-related.
“We’ve seen them going into vacant houses or those under construction and taking copper wire or piping,” he said, saying copper in air-conditioning units also has been a target of thieves.
Wheeler said some of the copper has been found locally, but scrap metal recyclers have been cooperative in working with police.
“Some of the detectives have actually worked with (metal recyclers) while trying to identify thieves,” he said.
Thieves do not always sell the copper in Troup County, sometimes taking it elsewhere.
“We’ve had a few cases where they’re going to Alabama to sell it,” he said.
Matt Chambers can be reached at mchambers@ lagrangenews.com or (706) 884-7311, Ext. 228.