Dangerous copper thefts

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - We are tracking a growing and dangerous crime trend, thieves looking to steal copper are now targeting utility poles. It's a crime that could result in serious injury or even death.

Police say one of the reasons this crime is so popular is because it's so lucrative. You can walk into a scrap yard with a piece of copper and walk out with cash in hand; local police have actually investigated a number of copper thefts around our area just this week

A spokesperson for Dominion says electricians are well aware of this growing trend of copper thefts from utility poles.

Dominion says it doesn't happen every day, but it is happening from time to time across Virginia at both utility poles and substations. In fact, it's one of the first things electricians check for on a service call, because if part of the wire has been stolen, the pole isn't grounded, and that's dangerous.

This week, the town of Culpeper discovered more than fifty utility poles where sections of ground wire had been cut or stolen.

Even though copper prices are down right now, it's clear that thieves are getting creative as metal like that does bring in cash.

"Aluminum, copper, AC units, those air conditioners that just sometimes sit around, batteries, steel, it all has value on the secondary market," said David Klisz from the Hanover County Sheriff's Office.

Richmond police have investigated a number of copper thefts this week, not from utility poles, but from people's homes. One of those incidents occurred here on the city's Northside on Stanhope Avenue

"We just heard that someone broke into the home and stole the copper from the basement plumbing. I guess times are hard and people are doing that sort of thing."

Georgianne Stinnent lives nearby and is now on alert.

"We are just on the lookout for any strange behavior in the neighborhood. We are not afraid or anything, but we are just aware that this is going on and just keeping our eyes open."

And as always, it sounds simple but true. If you see something suspicious going on in your neighborhood, be that at a neighbor's home or maybe at a utility pole, be sure to call local police.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.