CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although copper thefts seem to be declining slightly from previous years, police say it remains an ongoing problem as thieves become more experienced and more brazen.
New laws designed to punish thieves and scrap dealers who buy stolen copper seem to be working, but police said the laws haven't stopped career criminals.
West Virginia State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous said copper theft remains a constant problem across the state. Authorities linked the crime to the price paid for scrap copper, which was about $3.62 per pound, according to figures available online.
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.
In October, state lawmakers heard from the West Virginia State Police and others that the new laws were working and cited the decreasing number of reported copper thefts as proof. But lawmakers pointed out those figures were calculated in the first and second quarter this year, when copper prices were at the lowest.
Appalachian Power Spokesman Phil Moye said his company has never seen any significant decreases in copper theft. What they're seeing instead are thieves who become almost as experienced as electricians.
"Actually it varies," he said. "There are some that use bucket trucks and other places people are using very primitive homemade tools not designed to be used on electrical wires like bolt cutters."
He said a recent theft of only about $700 worth of copper from a substation in Kanawha City is an example of how severe the problem is.
The thieves, he said, were putting themselves and others in severe danger just for a few hundred dollars worth of metal.
"That station was very unstable and very dangerous," he said. "It's a situation where you could go in to make repairs and touch up against a piece of equipment and die."