Copper Theft: National Billion Dollar Industry Hurting Texoma

A billion dollar industry is hurting Texoma. Copper Theft is rising just as fast as the price. In fact officials who handle copper theft in our area say it's up 100 percent from just a few years ago.

Newschannel 6 dug deeper into a problem that's putting everyone at risk.

Every day when Clif Knight of Bell Processing comes to work there's a routine.

"We get a picture of their face. We get a picture of the material they're selling. We also get a picture of their car and then we get a picture of their license tag," said Knight.

Clif Knight is the manager at Bell Processing. The company recycles scrap metal and there's no doubt that he and his employees come face to face with thieves.

"We have anywhere from 100 to 150 customers a day."

Most of those customers are legitimate companies looking to sell metal but not all.

"Three to four years ago we started seeing a significant rise in the metal thefts," said Sgt. Spragins with the Wichita Falls Police Department.

Sgt. Spragins knows catching thieves who steal metal and then sell it to scrap yards is difficult even for the detectives who specifically handle those cases.

"The whole case of putting it together, where it came from, where it was stolen from, it's a difficult process," he said.

Once a thief steals the metal the only way detectives can really find it is by reporting the theft to scrap yards.

"When they find out something has been stolen they'll [police department] call us give us a heads up. We'll know what to keep an eye out for," said Justin Morales with Ray's Scrap Metals.

Workers there are always on alert and even have a wall of shame alerting them to criminals.

"Copper theft it's always been a big deal but with the price of copper being so high there's naturally going to be an increase of people of trying to steal the material," he said.

A few years ago Texas enacted stricter laws to limit the crime. Copper theft is now a state felony and rules and regulations of accepting metal are more stringent. The Department of Public Safety even has a database with all names and photos of everyone who sells copper.
Still, when copper is bringing in good money thieves don't stop.

"Fifteen years ago copper was selling for 40 to 50 cents a pound," said Knight. "Now it's over
$3 a pound."

"Metal thieves will basically go anywhere they can to find these things," said Sgt. Spragins.

They go to homes, abandoned buildings, construction sites and strip down an AC or a wall to find copper. They may walk away with a few hundred dollars of cash but end up costing the victim, easily thousands of dollars in damage.

Clif Knight at Bell Processing knows how it feels being on the receiving end of it.

"There were people that live close to here that were coming in at night stealing
some insulated wire," he said.

The thieves made a mistake and came back to Bell Processing, the same place they stole it from to sell it back. That made it easy to catch them but for innocent victims, like homeowners, that's
a wish likely not granted.

Officials say that thieves can often be seen carrying a backpack or duffle bag. They encourage homeowners to alert Police to any suspicious activity.

Local adjusters report seeing an increase of claims related to copper thefts. The price of copper is a matter of supply and demand and changes often.

Crystal Hall Newschannel 6.