Who needs a gold mine when copper can be every bit as valuable to the modern-day urban thief? After all, it's easy to recycle, it carries a hefty price tag, and it's all around us, including in street lights.
Up and down the state, copper bandits have taken to stripping the lights' copper wiring, making for dimly-lit and very unsafe roads. It's gotten so bad police officer Dave Northway says cops are on the lookout like never before.
"The officers are working in those zones to try and do foot patrols, or they're walking around, getting out of their cars, checking things. We have surprised quite a few people who are doing bad stuff in the middle of the night," he said.
But for all that bad stuff' the penalty's often an inconvenient fine or maybe a few days in jail. That's why lawmakers have unanimously passed a bill that would make stealing copper from street lights, power lines and electrical stations a first-degree felony with a maximum sentence of three decades in prison.
Even metal dealers who knowingly buy stolen manhole covers, historical markers, even beer kegs could get up to 15 years. Mary Jones calls it a big overreaction.
"You know, part of civilization is giving people a chance," she said. "Give them a chance - what chance can they have if they spend their whole life in jail? I mean, I really don't think that's a good idea at all."
Officer Northway would beg to differ. He says the real issue isn't so much the metal itself, but thousands of dollars in damage left behind when its stripped out, not to mention the impact on public safety. That's why his entire department is hoping the bill becomes law.
"We don't have a copper squad, but that's not a bad idea. If we have one, I think we'll name it that!"
Copper theft has become especially acute in Florida thanks to air conditioning. The copper wiring in your a/c unit has a value of around $20. When it's stripped out by a thief, the damage can be in upwards of five grand.
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