Caltrans taking steps to stop copper thieves

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is combating copper thieves by replacing the valuable metal with aluminum on its equipment around the state and upgrading its security systems. 

Copper theft has risen drastically in the state since the price of copper soared seven years ago.

As a result, Caltrans has spent more than $7 million annually since 2008 to replace damaged equipment and copper wiring after thieves take the copper to sell for money at scrap metal yards. Thefts have been reported on everything from underground conduits that operate traffic lights to highway message signs. 

In Redding, California, more than 5,000 feet of copper wiring used to operate traffic signals has been stolen during multiple thefts. 

"I think what happens is they go out there and they kind of watch us," Steve Hardie, a maintenance manager for Caltrans said. "They see our trucks out there. They know when we're replacing it... and then they strike again usually within a month."

In addition to replacing the copper with aluminum when possible, Caltrans also is installing security cameras where appropriate and working on getting the cameras linked to local security companies, who then can send police when an alarm is triggered. 

Caltrans engineers also are developing tamper-proof pole boxes that will securely hold all copper wiring, and local law enforcement around the state also is developing relationships with scrap metal yards in hope that they will be notified when someone comes in with large amounts of copper to be sold. 

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California Department of Transportation

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