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Copper? I Hardly Even Knew Her.

Copper theft's all the rage these days, especially among folks stealing the stuff for quick drug money. Ask the city council in Montgomery, Alabama, which last week adopted an ordinance that requires folks who buy scrap metal to electronically send a daily report to police. Or Dean Wallace and Angela Burton on faraway Leeds, England, who returned to their burned-down house in July only to find thieves had removed the floorboards from the wreckage to remove all the copper pipes and a copper cylinder tank. Copper theft's even big news in South Australia, Hawaii (where it gets you prison time) and Zimbabwe (where cops have formed an anti-copper theft crime squad).

Closer to home, TXU reported last month it lost $633,000 because of copper theft last year, resulting in its having to hire guards and begging Dallas police and local scrap yards to help in cracking down on folks cutting cables and hauling off copper, which is worth twice as much today as it was only three years ago (between $2.40 and $3.00 per pound, depending on quality, it says here). Last month, of course, copper thieves not only stole a few bucks' worth of tubing from the AIDS Arms Peabody Health Center in South Dallas, but also caused the place to flood and shut down for a few crucial days. In April, the University of Texas-Dallas reported on its crime blotter the theft of copper wiring and copper fittings from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Building construction site, stolen property worth $15,000. And there was this mention of Dallas' troubles in an issue of Time from last month:

"In Dallas, such thefts have doubled over the last year, according to the Dallas Police Department, up from 113 to 282 so far this year. Five detectives working metal thefts are overwhelmed by the increase, according to police spokesperson Donna Hernandez. Dallas' Dalco Air Conditioning & Heating Co. has replaced units at a pizza parlor and a struggling Baptist church. The two crimes total $30,000 in damage...

And with copper prices at a nearly two-decade high, the criminals plundering anything and everything they can get their hands on are even risking their lives. Larry Dory, 45, of Dallas was killed July 14 while trying to strip live electrical wire off a utility pole. In additon to the 240 to 460 volts in air conditioners, potential dangers include the inhalation of Freon, a refrigerant illegal to release into the atmosphere. 'That's a crime in and of itself with the EPA,' said J. D. Points, vice president of Dalco."

Well, that's a long way to go to get to this. Yesterday, my father told me the air conditioning at his auto parts store, on Second Avenue in the Fair Park area, wasn't working very well. Well, everything that doesn't move in South Dallas gets stripped for copper at some point. Ask every financially strapped church down there. Even those with barbed wire and burglar bars around their units show up for Sunday-morning services to find their units swiped sooner or later. And every shuttered business along Martin Luther King Boulevard's been picked over by copper-taking vultures. So I asked the old man, kinda-but-not-really facetiously, whether he'd checked to see if the rooftop unit had been swiped. This morning, a repairman went on the roof to check out the unit. It was gone. Of course it was. --Robert Wilonsky

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