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Copper prices, theft on the rise

NATCHEZ — Local thieves have been profiting lately off of the copper lining of the economic recession.

A rise in copper prices coordinates with a recent rash of copper theft, Natchez Police Department Lt. Craig Godbold said.

“Every time (the copper) price goes up, there is a big rise (in copper theft), and a lot more of the reports are turned in,” Godbold said.

Current copper prices are approximately $4 per pound, according to metalprices.com, the metal industry site.

The NPD has received two to three reports of copper theft from merchants and residents in recent months whose air conditioning units or other appliances have been ransacked for their copper wire, Godbold said.

Godbold said the burglars are stripping wires or melting down copper to change its form before selling it to scrap metal companies mostly across the river.

He said the retailers who pay money for copper have cooperated fully with the NPD, but it remains difficult to connect a seller to the theft because the form of the copper is often changed.

“(Suspects) melt it into small chunks, so it is not obvious what they’re stealing,” Godbold said.

And since many people are selling copper legally, it is difficult to narrow in on those who have stolen it.

Godbold said copper thieves have stolen from almost any type of facility, especially vacant houses and buildings.

“Anywhere that you have several buildings or empty structures (is common),” Godbold said.

He said residences are also targets.

“Families go on vacation, and they come back and their air conditioning doesn’t work,” Godbold said.

In order to convict and prosecute copper thieves, police need to know about the theft from victims as soon as possible, Godbold said.

“A lot has happened that is not even being reported,” he said.

Godbold said witnesses of possible copper theft should report the incident to the police.

“We have to get a handle on this and we need help,” Godbold said. “We need the cooperation of public, if (citizens) see (copper theft) happening — report it as fast as possible,” Godbold said.

District 5 Supervisor S.E. “Spanky” Felter brought up copper theft at a January board meeting.

Felter suggested the supervisors approach state legislators to persuade them to make laws that would penalize scrap metal companies that knowingly purchase stolen scrap metal.

Felter suggested legislatures make laws to require photo identification to buy scrap metal, for instance.

Felter said rashes of copper theft were a problem five or six years ago, and it has become a big issue again recently.

“The prices are back up and now it’s started again,” Felter said.

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