Personal experience drives council member to tackle copper thefts

It's a story you read about often in the news: copper theft costs everyone money, and in some cases, their personal safety.

If broken into, the copper inside an air conditioning unit will net someone less than twenty dollars at a scrap yard, but the damage to the unit can be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

One city council member learned it the hard way.  Steel cages now surround air conditioning units at a warehouse off Thomas Street after thieves stripped them of the copper inside.   The warehouse is owned by a company Memphis City Council member Jacks Sammons helps run.

"For 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 dollars worth of copper, they're doing thousands of dollars worth of damage," Sammons said Tuesday.  In his case, the theft cost Sammons' company more than $200,000 dollars in damage. Units on a roof at a neighboring warehouse were also stripped.
Police Director Larry Godwin said police know how the thefts usually happen.  "They're bringing ladders, going up on the roof, pulling ladders up," he said. "They strip everything down, go down the ladders, and are gone."

In a committee meeting Tuesday, Sammons wanted to know why rules regarding stolen copper haven't been put into place.
Godwin said they've been rejected in Nashville, creating a big problem here. 
Sammons was ready to look into local regulation of scrap metal sales.  "We've got to get to the people buying that copper illegally," he said. "If we can do that we can impact that crime as well."

Arkansas recently passed three bills creating penalties for stealing copper and scrap metal.  They require scrap metal buyers to keep detailed records, and increase penalties for thieves who cross state lines with stolen metal.

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