Sheriff’s office report rise in copper theft

Alisa Boswell

Tensions were high among some Roosevelt County residents Tuesday morning at the county commission meeting as they recounted thefts they have suffered.

“It’s not just Roosevelt County,” Sheriff Darren Hooker told commissioners and residents. “It’s statewide, nationwide.”

Chief Deputy Sheriff Malin Parker said larceny began increasing about six months ago when scrap market copper prices increased.

Parker said people will rip copper wiring from houses, off of sprinklers and anywhere else they can find it. He said recently an old dairy farm was ripped apart and stripped of most of it’s wiring by larcenists.

“They’ll take pretty much anything,” Parker said. “If it can be picked up out of a field, they’ll steal it or they have stolen it.”

Parker also said numerous other forms of metal have also been stolen, such as scrap iron, radiators and aluminum piping. In some instances, people attempted to steal an entire toolbar.

“I cannot recall a single suspect that we’ve dealt with in the larceny and/or arrested that has not been directly or indirectly related to some type of drug activity,” Parker said of the reasons why people are stealing the copper to sell. “Anyone who is a drug addict or uses drugs, in my opinion, is a potential thief.”

Parker said the sheriff’s office has increased its patrol hours to include the hours and places which are affected most by the larceny crimes and are also visiting scrap yards to find out who is selling scrap materials.

Joe Essary, owner of ABC Recyclers, said he has had a few suspicious phone calls to his business from people who wanted to sell him copper and other metal material.

“They called and wanted to know how I took the machinery, if I take them whole or cut up,” Essary said. “The kind of questions they ask and how they ask them shows that they’re new at it. That’s what makes me suspicious. When they ask how you take the scrap iron, you know it’s a first for them.”

Essary said he plans to start trying to get names and numbers of suspicious individuals who try to do business with him, so he can submit them to the sheriff’s office.

“We gotta start somewhere,” Essary said. “I’m not gonna stand there and let somebody get away.”

According to Portales Police Department Deputy Police Chief Lonnie Berry, it has been a different story for the city law enforcement. Rather than larceny it is burglary which has increased for the city.

Berry said reasons for this increase are unknown but if burglaries continue the way they have been going since the new year began, there will be about 40 more than this time last year.

“Most of the auto burglaries that have been reported have been vehicles that were unlocked and most of our burglaries have been auto burglaries,” Berry said. “Most of the vehicles have been unlocked and that tells us that a lot of these burglaries have been opportunity crimes. Most burglars want the shortest and quickest way to do things.”

Parker and Berry both said the best action any individual can take is to report any and all suspicious behavior to law enforcement, such as dogs barking at strange times, lights on or doors ajar in vehicles or suspicious looking individuals seen in strange places at unusual times of day or night.

Parker said several arrests have been made in connection with the larceny crimes and he is hopeful for decreasing the issue with “aggressive law enforcement.”