CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- New laws designed to crack down on copper theft in West Virginia seem to be working, state lawmakers learned Monday.
But an increase in out-of-state or transient scrap metal dealers threatens to undermine the progress police are making to curb thefts.
Frontier Communications reported that copper-wire cable thefts dropped from 200 to 130, when comparing the first nine months of 2011 to the same period this year.
West Virginia State Police also said copper theft reports have steadily decreased -- from 50 during the first three months of this year, to 35 during the second quarter, and down to 21 during the past three months.
"Copper thefts are down significantly," said Bryan Stover, corporate security specialist at Frontier. "Hopefully, that trend will stay the same."
In June, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law two new bills designed to clamp down on copper theft. One bill makes it a felony to steal copper cable and disrupt telephone or utility service. The other law restricts the sale of copper and other metals at scrap yards across the state.
"The laws seem to be working, but we're still in the early stages," State Police Capt. Bill Scott told members of a joint House-Senate committee Monday. "It's still hard to gauge."
Stover said telecommunication firms, utilities and railroads are working closely with law enforcement authorities and scrap dealers.
"We have to work together," Stover said. "I think this shows we are working together. Now that the word is getting out that you can't do this, it's a real deterrent."
Stover said Frontier customers typically lose service when thieves swipe copper-wire cable strung across telephone polls.
During the June 29 derecho, thieves also stole 20 of Frontier's backup generators, which are housed at remote sites, Stover told lawmakers during Monday's interim meetings.
Roland Fisher, president of the West Virginia Scrap Dealers Association, said his organization's members are following the new rules and cooperating with utilities and law enforcement agencies.
Under the new law, people who sell copper and other scrap metal to recyclers must fill out paperwork and show a photo ID.
"The important thing is that the recycler has all the information on the seller," Fisher said.