Dec 3, 2012 9:38 PM by Eric Ross

Copper thieves disguising themselves as city utility workers?

So far this year, City of Colorado Springs has spent more than $500,000 to replace stolen copper wire being taken from street lights.

It's a growing problem for taxpayers, and a story News 5 has been following for years.

Both the City and Colorado Springs Utilities have had enough of copper thieves.

"It (replacement costs) either has to come through the general fund, through CSU rates, or through PPRTA maintenance money," Traffic Manager Kathleen Karger said. "All of that is taxpayer money."

The City admits they have to play catch up.

Not only do they have to foot the bill for stolen wire, they now have to spend money on tamper-proof screws and doors to make it difficult for the crooks to access.

While the new features will act as a deterrent, catching the thieves in the act may not be easy.

The City believes the crooks may be disguised as utility workers in order to avoid suspicion.

"If it's not a CSU crew, call it in and let the police check it out," Karger said.

El Paso County District Attorney Dan May has had a fair share of copper theft cases come across his desk over the past few years.

"We've made it a high priority in our office," he said. "We take these cases seriously. It's affecting our ability to come out of this recession."

High tech alarms and additional surveillance cameras are also being installed at wire yards.

For now, the quick fix is to spend money to save money, while hoping the added security enhancements will tarnish these copper thefts.

To help combat the crime, Colorado Springs Police along with the City will be out educating local scrap metal dealers and pawn shops on how to identify stolen copper.

The City has budgeted $370,000 for copper wiring replacements for 2013.

CSU spokesman Steve Berry declined to comment on our story or discuss any additional safety measures his division is rolling out.



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