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Federal Way fights copper wire theft

Copper wire - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use
Copper wire
— image credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

With 11 incidents of copper wire theft recorded in the city in 2012 alone, and with those thefts totaling more than $100,000 in costs, Federal Way officials seek a strategy to combat the problem.

Public Works Director Cary Roe said the city hopes to lean on residents and businesses. The city will soon mail fliers on the issue.

"We intend to try and inform, and educate (citizens) to react to suspicious behaviors in the right-of-way and in the parks. We're encouraging folks to help us keep those lights on in the parks and in the right-of-way," Roe said at the Oct. 2 city council meeting.

People are asked to call 911 if they view a wire theft in progress or see suspicious behavior, Roe said.

"We'd much rather have (people) call 911 and have it turn out not to be a problem, versus not calling at all," he said.

Beyond a public outreach campaign, Roe said the city is taking steps to foil the thieves at the point of contact.

"We've welded down junction box lids, so you can't just pick them up," Roe said, referencing the boxes that contain the wiring for both light fixtures at city parks and street lights. "They either beat the lid off with a large hammer or break the welds. Here of late, they've gone to taking the whole junction box right out of the ground. They hook it to the back of a truck and pull it out of the ground, expose the wire, cut it and pull (the wire out)."

To combat that new tactic, the city has begun to pour concrete around the junction boxes.

Roe also shared a story of a recent attempt at wire theft at the former AMC Theater site on 20th Avenue South, and how this particular criminal enterprise carries with it a high risk to life and limb.

"An individual on the AMC Theater site attempted to steal wire. As you know, the building has been demolished and it's a vacant lot, but there is a power connection there," he said. "I think the individual thought the connection was off. He did disconnect the ground wires and attempted to cut the wires, and got the surprise of his life. He's lucky he has his life. He was burned, and from an electrical perspective, it created a very large arc, as you might guess."

Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell asked Roe if there are any thoughts on where the thieves sell the wire. Roe said he was unsure of what the dynamic is concerning the sale of the stolen wire.

"As you recall, roughly three years ago, there was some new legislation passed. It seemed to stem the tide a bit, and we saw a reduction in wire theft," he said, referencing a law that placed stricter requirements on people selling metal. The law required merchants to record the name and address of the seller. "For whatever set of reasons, they've figured a way around the current statute. I'm not sure if that's the vendors accepting the materials, or if the individuals doing the stealing have figured out another way to sell the material."

"We're kind of scratching our heads on that," Roe added.

Roe said the city plans to work with many of the groups that use the parks, include youth and adult sports associations. For the greater community, Roe said the city will utilize the SafeCity program, and reach out to homeowners associations, businesses and the school district.

Incidents of copper wire theft in 2012

Celebration Park, 1095 S. 324th St.

• May 7, ball fields, $428.24

• June 4, soccer fields, $11,873.05

• July 26, soccer fields, $15,647.29

• Total cost: $27,949.18

Right-of-ways

• March 14, 38th Ave. S. and S. 334th St., $16,200

• March 26, 42nd Ave. SW and SW 320th St., $11,100

• March 27, 21st Ave. SW, between SW 325th Place and SW 330th St., $9,500

• July 24, S. 312th St., between 1st Ave. S. and 8th Ave. S., $6,800

• Aug. 1, Weyerhaueser Way S., between 33rd Place S. to SR-18, $8,300

• Aug. 21, Hoyt Road SW, between SW 331st Place and SW 335th Place, $11,100

• Aug. 22, SW 356th St., between 4th Ave. S. and 8th Ave. SW, $13,000

• Sept. 17, S. 364th St., between 16th Ave. S. and 12th Ave. S., cost TBD

• Total cost: Approximately $76,000

 

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