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Metal Theft Back on the Police Radar | Crime

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Metal Theft Back on the Police Radar

LAS VEGAS -- Copper thefts went down with the end of the construction boom. But now, they are back. Criminals are getting more desperate to take advantage of copper prices that are at record highs.

Police say criminals are taking risks with their lives by pulling copper wires out of light poles and utility boxes. Metropolitan police officers are working with recycling yards to curb the thefts. They are competing against illegal recyclers in anonymous vans, smuggling copper out of state.

"They're selling it two what we call a mobile recycler. Somebody that's just driving around with the proverbial white paneled van with a meat scale in the back and we think there are just dozens and dozens of these throughout the valley," said Metro Detective Robert Hagberg.

Copper wire is once again a hot commodity. Copper paid $4.11 a pound during the 2008 peak. It crashed to a $1.35 by 2009. But copper peaked at $4.41 a pound Wednesday.

"I don't think that lawmakers or the police can really close down all the mobile recyclers. They might catch some -- they might be able to do some -- but I think that if the community understands if they're dealing with a licensed recycler, they're dealing with somebody who's not buying stolen material," said Scott Stolberg, CEO of AAEQ Recycling.

Police say stolen metal is coming from everything from light poles to utility boxes all around the Las Vegas valley. Some cities previously welded some of their utility boxes shut in industrial neighborhoods. Now Henderson says they may have to weld them shut in residential neighborhoods.

Metal thieves are getting more desperate. The recycling yard says one month ago, somebody came trying to recycle manhole covers. They still had City of North Las Vegas stamped all over them.

City utility officials say that if you spot somebody acting suspicious near light poles or power boxes between the hours of 4 p.m. and 6 a.m., call 911.