Sedgwick County officials ask for help curbing copper thefts

Copper thefts continue to plague Sedgwick County and the surrounding area, prompting local officials to seek residents’ help in curbing the crimes.

The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office received 42 copper-specific theft reports between Aug. 15 and the same date last year, according to information provided by the agency Thursday.

District Attorney Marc Bennett called the thefts “fairly rampant,” noting that numbers countywide are higher because some thefts go unreported and the figures from the Sheriff’s Office don’t include copper thefts in the city of Wichita’s jurisdiction and the surrounding towns.

Air-conditioning units at homes and businesses, copper awnings and parts of agricultural irrigation systems are all targets. Even local utility substations, such as those owned by Westar Energy, are drawing copper criminals.

They are “randomly cutting large sections of copper out,” sheriff’s spokesman David Mattingly said. “It’s causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage and power loss to customers.”

And often huge repair bills for farmers, businesses and homeowners, he added.

Bennett and the Sheriff’s Office continue to ask residents to call 911 if they see suspicious activity – someone backing up to an air-conditioning unit or trucks carrying large amounts of copper, for example – in their neighborhoods. Bennett also said he thinks enacting legislation, such as tracking copper purchases by local scrap yards, could help the theft rate drop.

“It will take a coordinated, regional effort,” Bennett said.

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