Copper thefts have become increasingly common now that the metal is selling at record high prices, driven by worldwide booms in electronics and construction, reports the Washington Post. Thieves from the professional to the bumbling are scaling cellphone towers, ripping off baseball field lights, looting construction sites, tearing out potentially lethal live wires, removing huge spools from utility company grounds, hauling off massive sculptures in the middle of the night and even stealing gravestone plaques.
In response, lawmakers and authorities are taking steps to catch more thieves and are toughening the punishment for those who are convicted. Copper, which sells for between $3 and $4 a pound, sold for about 83 cents a pound in 2000. In Colorado Springs, two ballparks and an in-line skating rink lost electric wiring from their lights; and sprinkler caps worth as much as $1,200 a piece were swiped. In Hot Springs, Ark., 2,000 customers, a hospital, a mall and a Wal-Mart lost power when copper thieves hit an electric substation on April 27. During a two-week period in April, there were six copper thefts in churches around Birmingham, Ala. Three large, bronze outdoor sculptures have been stolen in the past year and a half in Brea, Calif., each one valued at tens of thousands of dollars.