Copper wire theft puts community at risk

Arecent spike in copper thefts underlines the importance of wiring the public into the serious safety hazards these crimes pose.

A recent spike in copper thefts on the West Shore underlines the importance of wiring the public into the serious safety hazards these crimes pose to the public.

According to BC Hydro, the theft of approximately 770 metres of copper wire this month from an underground duct in Langford  — one of the largest ever on Vancouver Island — was a well-planned heist by people who knew what they were doing.

Although there was no disruption to power, the situation could have been much worse. As well, copper wire was stolen from an underground parking lot in Colwood in September, and about $10,000 worth of copper fittings, wire and pipe were taken from a business in Langford last summer.

In some instances, copper wire theft from BC Hydro damages Telus lines, disrupting telephone service and 9-1-1 calls for thousands of customers in the process.

That can have dire consequences for people dealing with emergencies, and can dramatically affect response times for emergency services. These thefts have the potential to put people dealing with serious medical or safety issues, especially in rural areas, in life or death situations.

In some of the more sophisticated thefts on the Mainland, thieves wore hard hats, protective gear and vests and had traffic cones around their vehicles to give the appearance that they were carrying out routine repairs for BC Hydro or Telus.

While the average theft of copper wire nets the perpetrators who sell it as scrap metal a few hundred dollars, it cost BC Hydro or Telus $50,000 or more per repair, on average. BC Hydro estimates the cost for the past three months for repairs and replacement at $750,000.

The total cost to Telus alone for 380 live copper cable thefts in 2011 is a staggering $18 million. This affects not only the companies’ bottom line, but the rates subsequently charged to customers to absorb the cost to replace the lines and repair equipment damaged during the theft.

As well, municipalities that use copper wiring in street lights, traffic signals, etcetera are impacted by repair costs.

Cpl. Kathy Rochlitz, head of the West Shore RCMP’s community policing section, says the public can make a difference in reducing copper wire thefts and the risk to public safety.

“If you see suspicious activity or have concerns about a crew doing work with vehicles that don’t have official BC Hydro or Telus markings, you should contact the police,” Rochlitz said.

“If you’re out walking your dog, for example, and see a fresh dig near a hydro pole or duct or box, or a plate removed from a lamp standard, or you notice a vehicle loaded with cables or wiring, you should call 250-474-2264, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477),” Rochlitz said. “If you observe what appears to be a theft in progress, call 9-1-1.”

—Rick Stiebel is the Langford-RCMP community liaison.