Another View: Tulare County official takes lead in wire theft battle

September 14, 2012 

Finally, some law enforcement officials are aggressively pursuing the copper wire theft epidemic that has shut off irrigation pumps at farms and darkened neighborhood street lights.

The Tulare County Sheriff's Department cited five metal recyclers after a sting operation revealed they were buying stolen wire.

For the most part, officers throughout the San Joaquin Valley had been going after the thieves and only spot checking recyclers who purchased the stolen wire. That has been a failed strategy, as metal theft skyrocketed under this timid approach. Kern County sheriff's deputies participated in the three-week sting investigation and Tulare County detectives made 15 arrests in addition to citing the five businesses for code violations.

Thieves increasingly have been stealing copper wire, and then selling it to recycling centers -- often several hundred feet at a time. Recyclers seemingly had no idea that hundreds of feet of copper wire may have been stolen, even when it came from someone who had no reason to own that much copper wire.

In Tulare County, authorities recognized the role that some recyclers play in the wire theft business. Sheriff Bill Wittman, who announced the results of the sting on Monday, said a stolen farm pump could cause crops to go without water and damage a farmer's livelihood.

We believe that going after the thieves and businesses that illegally purchase the copper wire sends a strong message.

While state laws have been written to limit the purchase of stolen wire, the regulations do no good if they aren't strictly enforced. It's time that Merced County law enforcement officials follow the lead of Tulare County.

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