Tucson business owners learning all they can about metal theft

Published: Dec. 13, 2012 at 10:08 PM MST|Updated: Dec. 20, 2012 at 10:08 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Local businesses are arming themselves with knowledge to fight an epidemic of metal theft.

Criminals stealing copper wire and plumbing are costing them and us millions of dollars.

Some Tucson business owners and managers are fed up, and are learning all they can about a crime that's considered an epidemic in southern Arizona.

"We've had air conditioners stolen. They're vandalized so we have to replace the air conditioners," said Tucson businessman Jason Wong.

Metal thieves are hitting businesses, homes, school, utilities and cities' infrastructure across the country.

Many of these crimes happen in plain sight.

It seems nothing is safe.

That's just one reason for a seminar held Thursday in Tucson.

Metal Theft Training and Consultants, LLC's Terry Alling was teaching local businesspeople about metal theft.

Who does it and why.

He displayed a slide.

"What's he do? He's no longer a thief. He's a fencer. He's a bootlegger," Allling said, describing the slide.

The Tucsonans are soaking it all in, learning all they can about metal theft and what they can do to help police stop it.

We heard one expensive horror story after another.

It's never ending.

Jason Wong told us about thieves stealing a $1,500 backflow device.

"I had one stolen twice within 30 hours."

"So you replaced it and they came back and got the new one?" I asked.

Wong answered, "The next night they came and got the new one."

The seminar taught that thieves will steal any metal, but mostly copper.

They'll take entire air conditioning units.

Attendees found out most metal theft is associated with narcotics use, especially meth.

Drug users steal to support their drug habit.

A thief can steal 20 dollars worth of copper, and it can cost thousands to make the repairs.

Plus, business owners are spending a lot of money trying to protect themselves.

Mona Deane manages properties in Tucson.

"We have more security at our properties. We have patrols. We have security cameras. A lot of it is very costly though for the property owners," she said.

Tucson taxpayers are victims too, to the tune of millions of dollars over the last few years.

Thieves targeting streetlights, for instance, have stolen more than half-a-million dollars in copper wire in the last five years.

Tucson police formed the Metal Theft Reduction and Apprehension Plan, or MTRAP, earlier this year.

MTRAP's focus is education, investigation, enforcement, and prosecution.

Metal theft happens day and night, and officers say they need everyone to keep their eyes open, and call police.

"Many times the business will just report the theft to their insurance company and not to us, thinking it's insignificant, but it's not," said Tucson Police Lt. Chad Kasmar.

Kasmar said homeowners need to be aware too.

"If you have a vacant house or a house that's being foreclosed next to you, and you see suspicious activity, call it in. It is important to us," he said.

Alling said that on Friday, the seminar would be more comprehensive because it would be for law enforcement officers.

More than 100 were expected to come from all over Arizona and a few other states.

Copyright 2012 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.