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S.C.'s co-ops partner with Crime Stoppers

September 14, 2012


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(Blythewood, SC) South Carolina’s electric cooperatives have formed a strategic partnership with Crime Stoppers to help raise public awareness of the excessive expense and potential danger associated with copper theft from electric utilities.

“Copper thieves are costing our state’s cooperatives, and more importantly our members, hundreds of thousands of dollars every year,” said Bill Hart, CEO of Fairfield Electric Cooperative in Blythewood where today’s announcement was made. “Too often, a thief steals less than $100 worth of wire, but we shoulder the burden of repairing the damage that typically costs thousands.”

Since the beginning of 2011, incidents of copper theft have collectively cost the state’s cooperatives nearly $1 million. Beyond the financial burden incurred, theft of utility copper also poses significant risks for would-be thieves and cooperative employees.

“We believe this is a significant public safety issue,” said South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel. “Stealing copper from an electric substation is extremely dangerous. It’s a decision that can get you killed. We’ve seen it happen.”

In 2011, more than 25 people nationwide were killed attempting to steal copper from electric utilities. Of particular concern to cooperatives is the safety of their employees and the general public. Unknowingly coming into contact with equipment that’s been damaged by metal thieves can cause serious injury. 

“We also worry about the effects these acts can have on the integrity of our infrastructure,” says Russ Dantzler, vice-president of engineering and operations at Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative in Lexington. “These thefts can cause outages that knock out power to traffic signals, and can jeopardize the well-being of customers who rely on power for life-support systems like oxygen.”

“We’re very pleased to partner with the co-ops to help the public understand and realize the true costs of copper theft,” said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. “This isn’t a harmless, victimless crime. It’s serious, and so are we when it comes to catching these criminals.”

With a goal of encouraging citizens to anonymously report copper theft to law enforcement, Friday’s announcement is the beginning of a broad-based public information campaign that will utilize a combination of billboards and radio public service announcements.. Anyone with knowledge of copper theft is encouraged to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-888-CRIMESC, or report online at www.sccrimestoppers.com. Tips that lead to an arrest could result in a cash reward of up to $1,000.

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