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Manatee seeing spike in copper thefts

MANATEE — Copper wiring was reported stripped from several utility poles and homes under construction this week, according to authorities.

The spike in thefts could be tied to isolated locations, as well as the price of copper, said Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Dave Bristow.

“It’s nothing like it was,” Bristow said, reflecting on a rash of copper thefts two years ago that spurred the sheriff’s office to take aerial photographs of scrap yards and go after middlemen who were purchasing the stolen metal. “These things go in spurts. We’re trying to get a handle on it before it goes back to the way it was.”

Each of the thefts has been reported from east of Interstate 75. According to sheriff’s reports:

n Someone reportedly cut the wires of 22 light poles Thursday on Pope Road in East Manatee, causing $6,600 in damage. Six of those poles were missing wires. The Manatee County Department of Transportation reported the theft and investigators believe the burglary took place between Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

n A construction company reported three homes under construction had the copper tubing and wiring cut out from open wood framing at Lakeside Preserve in Parrish. About $2,250 worth of copper was stolen from the homes between Wednesday and Thursday mornings.

n On Wednesday, about 2,500 feet of copper wire was reported stolen from power poles near State Road 64 and Kibler Ranch Road in Myakka City. Peace River Electric reported the theft Wednesday to deputies. Investigators believe the theft took place sometime between midnight and 4 a.m. Wednesday.

Bristow said investigators are looking into whether the cases are related.

In 2007, the sheriff’s office had 203 reported cases of stolen copper from assorted sources, including utility sites and backflow preventers. Thieves often take the metal to sell it for cash at scrap yards, according to authorities.

Two years ago, when copper thefts were more prevalent throughout the county, the price of copper hit $3.45 a pound, according to Herald archives.

On Friday, the price of copper was $1.70 a pound, Bristow said.

“A lot of it is dictated by the price,” Bristow said of copper thefts. “We really haven’t had much. Hopefully, this is just an isolated deal.”

Anyone with any information about these latest cases can contact the sheriff’s office at 747-3011 or remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at (866) 634-TIPS (8477).