Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


April 16, 2013

Copper crisis

911 center theft unacceptable

— — In perhaps their most brazen and reckless act to date, copper thieves have now resorted to stealing copper wire  from a 911 center radio tower. In doing so, they have shown not only a complete disregard for the law, but also public safety.

Last’s week theft in McDowell County is a telling reminder of just how serious the copper theft problem in our region has become. And it should be viewed as a call to action by lawmakers to further strengthen laws and penalties as it relates to the theft of metal.

According to the West Virginia State Police Welch Detachment, between 200 to 300 feet of copper wire was stolen last week from the McDowell County 911 center’s radio towers. The theft occurred sometime between April 8 and 10, according to Trooper C.A. Dunn. The value of the stolen copper was estimated at about $2,000.

Fortunately, this shameless theft didn’t disrupt 911 operations. A 911 spokesman said the theft didn’t have any impact on emergency communications in the county.

But it could have. In fact, there have been several cases in the past where residents of McDowell County — and other communities across southern West Virginia — have lost both phone and Internet service as a result of copper thefts. A little more than a year ago 6,800 residents of McDowell County lost their telephone service as a result of a copper theft to a Frontier line. Unfortunately, the headline wasn’t isolated. Some utility companies are reporting weekly copper thefts.

No arrests have been made to date in this latest incident. Dunn says troopers have no witnesses or suspects at this time.

Stealing copper can be a deadly practice, especially when electric lines are involved.

“You don’t know if the lines are energized or not and many people have died trying it,” Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye told the Daily Telegraph last year. “For people who know a family member or friend is doing that, you need to encourage them and talk with them about the risk they are taking. Every year there are fatalities related to copper theft. You have to stop them before it is too late.”

While a tougher law aimed at restricting and further penalizing those convicted of stealing copper and other materials from utilities did take effect last year, it apparently isn’t enough. Otherwise we would not still be hearing troubling stories of copper thefts across our region.

Stealing copper is a foolish and potentially deadly act. We have repeatedly seen the headlines of individuals who have been killed — in many instances electrocuted — while trying to steal copper.

When emergency communications are threatened by such copper thefts, so is public safety.

That is why it is imperative that further action be taken — and tougher laws be passed — to get the copper theft problem under control. If we don’t, it is only a matter of time before someone else is electrocuted, or thousands more are left in the dark without telephone service or emergency communications.

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