By Police Officer Larry Jacobs

Copper wire theft has been on the rise for several years. With increased demand in the United States and overseas, the price of copper remains high. New regulations are in place in many states to help prevent theft. These regulations require those who buy copper wiring to hold the material for several days and to log the names and addresses of sellers.

Recycling copper in Georgia can get you from $3.25 to $4 a pound. Copper from generators and electric motors can be worth up to $10 a pound and die-cast copper can get you up to $25 a pound.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, copper theft costs the national economy about $1 billion per year. Abandoned homes, industrial warehouses and new construction sites are common places where thefts occur. Even though new laws and regulations are in place in many states, including Georgia, that include stiffer sentences for those who are caught as well as additional restrictions for the resale of copper materials, copper theft continues to rise because of the amount of money to be made.

In Georgia, the scrap metal law states that scrap recyclers are required to keep records for purchases of nonferrous metals, excluding aluminum cans, for two years. Within the records, recyclers are required to include a physical description of the commodity purchased, a signed statement by the seller indicating ownership and/or authority to sell the metal, a copy of the seller’s driver’s license, the driver’s vehicle’s license plate number and a description of the seller’s vehicle.

Additionally, scrap recyclers are forbidden from issuing cash payments within 24 hours of making a purchase, but checks may be issued at the time of the transaction. There is a 15-day-tag-and-hold policy when notified by law enforcement.

Protect your home, warehouse or job site by installing cameras, posting “No Trespassing” signs, hiring security and locking buildings securely at night.

Because copper can be found in a variety of building materials, including plumbing, air conditioner units, and gutters and in electrical components, taking as many precautions as possible to protect these items is the best way to prevent theft.

Use florescent paint or engraving to brand copper materials with your company’s logo. That helps identify materials if they’re stolen and turn up later.

Georgia utility companies have gotten involved in trying to curb copper theft. Georgia’s electric utilities offer $3,000 to anyone who gives information that leads directly to the arrest and conviction of someone involved in the theft of copper or other metals from utility properties.

The reward is being offered by Dalton Utilities, Electric Cities of Georgia, 42 electric membership cooperatives (EMCs), Georgia Power, Georgia Transmission Corp. and Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia. Starting in February 2009, they offered $500 for information.

Jointly, the utilities said copper thefts from substations, utility poles and lines continue to be a growing problem and public safety issue. The thefts threaten the reliability of the electric system and could cause power outages in some cases. Damaged lines pose a danger of electrocution to anyone in the area, including utility workers.

Anyone who observes suspicious activity around an electric substation or other utility facility is asked to contact the statewide copper theft hotline at 1-877-732-8717. If a theft is in progress, the witness should notify 911 first, and then call the hotline.

Officer Larry Jacobs is a crime prevention specialist in the Crime Prevention Unit of the Sandy Springs Police Department. He can be reached at Larry.Jacobs@sandyspringsga.org.