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Sheriff: Thieves may be using Internet to find metal, copper

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, at 2:41 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, at 5:32 a.m.

The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that metal thieves apparently are using a new tool to plan their crimes: the Internet.

“Investigators believe specific locations are being targeted by suspects who are using computer mapping sites to identify locations that may have large quantities of copper wire,” Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Mattingly said during a media briefing Wednesday.

A recent example occurred Tuesday, when Sedgwick County deputies stopped a pickup near 143rd Street East and K-254. The driver, a 24-year-old Oklahoma woman, was originally stopped on traffic charges.

But, according to Mattingly, a few hours later deputies arrested two men from Oklahoma, ages 33 and 31, as they were trying to sneak into the pickup, which was still at the scene.

An investigation indicated they had come to Wichita to burglarize a Westar substation at 143rd Street East and K-254, Mattingly said. The three were booked on suspicion of burglary and criminal trespass.

Mattingly said the thieves broke into another location near that intersection — a feedlot — in an attempt to hide their pickup and that’s where the burglary occurred.

He said it is possible the thieves could be connected with other thefts in the area and may have used the Internet to help target the areas they were planning to burglarize.

“I do think it is interesting that something like Google Earth is being used by criminals to target locations,” he said. “You can also look at irrigation equipment on agricultural property for the pivots they are trying to steal.

“If you have large quantities of scrap metal laying around your property, they can see it from Google Earth and you may have set yourself up for metal theft crime.”

So, how does a farmer hide something as large as an irrigation pivot? Or a sandpit operation hide equipment they use every day? You don’t.

“You are not hidden,” Mattingly said. “You may be in a rural area, but thieves can find you.”

One draw that Oklahoma thieves may have for Kansas items, Mattingly said, is that in Oklahoma irrigation pivots, large pieces of copper are being replaced with equipment that isn’t copper.

“They are looking for areas that still have copper,” he said.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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