Street light wires latest target of copper thieves

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) A Bakersfield man has been arrested for allegedly stealing copper wire from Bakersfield city street lights. It's the latest case in a growing, new crime. Police say the valuable metal is sold to recycling centers, but those operators are supposed to follow laws aimed at preventing the purchase of stolen metal.

"it seems like it's a recurring problem with the city of Bakersfield," police Detective John Blunt told Eyewitness News. "Where people are cutting wires to the street lights and removing them."

Blunt can't give out details of this case, yet.

"Copper is an expensive metal," he said. "So a lot of these guys are recycling it to get money."

Police said Dean Donn Mudford, 43, was arrested on Friday. Officers said Mudford took wire from various locations around the city.

Blunt said theft of copper wires from street lights is usually spotted by city work crews.

"They'll see that the street lights are not functioning, they'll see that there will be a series of them that are out," he said.

Kern County Sheriff officers also recently arrested two men in a case of suspected copper wire theft. Officers said they served a warrant at SCS Logistics off Brundage Lane, and one man was arrested for possession of stolen property and the other was arrested on suspicion of "failure to use due diligence" in buying copper wire.

Recyclers must follow specific laws when buying scrap metal. The seller has to provide certain information to the recycling operation.

"They're going to require either a California ID or driver's license," Blunt said. "They're going to take your photograph, and they're going to require that you wait three days before they pay you for the weight of the copper."

Some of the large recyclers do even more, he said.

"The major recycling centers take photographs of the truck's license plate, they write it down, and they take a picture of the load," Blunt said. One recycling plant in Bakersfield told Eyewitness News that's exactly what they do.

Police say some thieves don't sell the metal themselves. "They'll take it to a middleman who will recycle it for them and give them less money on the dollar," Blunt said.

Eyewitness News has also investigated the theft of copper materials inside air conditioning units from offices and churches in Bakersfield. The detective said his office hasn't had a report of that in a month or so, those crimes seem to be sporadic. But, it's another metals theft that he worries about.

The theft of metal for scrap is a fairly recent crime, Blunt said. "And it is on the rise," he said. "It's pretty scary, really."

In the case at SCS Logistics off Brundage, the attorney for the company said he disputes that the laws were not followed. Fred Gagliardini told Eyewitness News he has questions about the search warrant that was used in the investigation. He said that company primarily takes in scrap construction materials in large containers.

In the Bakersfield case, Mudford was arrested on charges of petty theft and possession of stolen property.

Blunt said wires for street lights are typically under the sidewalk in utility boxes. He hopes people will report any suspicious activity they see. "If they see someone bent down by one of these junction boxes -- and they aren't wearing a City of Bakersfield orange shirt -- to call the Bakersfield Police Department."

Police can be reached at (661) 327-7111.