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Police: Copper thefts on the rise in Wichita area

April 28, 2013|by Sia Nyorkor | KWCH 12 Eyewitness News

(WICHITA, Kan.) — Someone broke into a Westar energy substation and knocked out power in south Wichita---causing more than a $150,000 in damage.

Westar officials say there have been more than 50 copper thefts at area sub-stations just this year.

There were only 4 last year.


Early Sunday morning, someone broke into a substation and stole copper from behind this fence---causing a fire and an explosion. 1500 customers were without power.

Westar says these signs are there for a reason--they believe whoever did it is probably seriously hurt and may have lost hearing or eyesight.

"The amount of copper that thieves are stealing is just a handful of copper, why put yourself in danger to steal just a handful of copper? Copper prices are up a little bit but these thieves are just picking up basketsful of copper," said Doug VenJohn who manages Westar substations.

Just down the road in Butler county,  the sheriff's office says it's also seeing desperate attempts to steal copper.

What they'll do is take the wire, go to a secluded area, make a bonfire and burn the insulation off the wiring so that way just the bare copper wiring is left and then they take that metal and go to a scrap place to get money for it," said Sgt. Erik Ramsey.

Westar has started using different techniques to try and stop it.

Field crews are using  copper weld in place of the real copper to try and deter criminals.

It has also put in more cameras and lighting to make criminals think twice but if thieves are willing to go inside here to steal copper and put their lives at risk--finding a solution is not easy.

"These thieves were subjected to thousands of amps. So in the right condition they would've been easily fatally injured. So this is a very dangerous place to be. We've got to be able to try and keep our community safe," said VenJohn

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The latest reports show that copper is selling for about $3.19 a pound in the US.  Officials say on many of these cases, thieves are only getting away with a few dollars.

Police: Copper thefts on the rise in Wichita area
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