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I-Team: Copper Thieves Target Parks and Railroad Signals | News

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I-Team: Copper Thieves Target Parks and Railroad Signals
Brent Martin

LAS VEGAS -- Copper wire thieves are getting more imaginative and more dangerous in their crimes. Now, they're targeting railroads and park trails. It's a lingering problem that costs taxpayers plenty of money.

The price of copper is around $3 a pound. Last year, North Las Vegas street lamps were the hot target for thieves. Now, thieves have moved to Henderson parks and railway signal boxes around Nevada.

Henderson Police say two accused copper wire thieves told them they were "just out for a bike ride" when questioned by police.

The story seemed unusual, police said, because one suspect had a kid's bike and the other bicycle was broken. Brent Martin and Devin Mann were arrested. Officers reported finding copper wire from two light poles in the car the suspects used.

Prior to the arrests, Henderson city officials thought they had resolved the copper theft problem plaguing the city. Taxpayers paid $15,000 in 2011 in labor costs alone to replace copper stolen from park trails.

In 2012, copper theft plummeted, but it increased again in 2013. Already this year, the city has spent more than $6,000 in labor costs to replace stolen copper wire.

Kirk Niemand is Henderson's park operations manager. He said it's a constant problem for the city.

"We're working on getting a lot of protective measures to safeguard the light poles. We're securing and covering all the pole boxes. We've installed security cameras," he said.

If a park light goes out, security becomes a concern. The same is true if a train signal goes out. It could result in a catastrophe. Federal plea agreements obtained by the I-Team highlight ongoing problems with copper wire theft along Union Pacific railways in Nevada.

The U.S. Attorney's office said the stolen signal wires could cause a train collision. According to federal officials, in just two weeks, one man has stolen more than 400 pounds of railroad signal wire in northern Nevada.

Copper thieves caught lately seem to have the right tools for the jobs. That leads those responsible for securing copper to ask for the public's help.

"Anybody doing repairs on the trail should be in a city vehicle, have the city uniform and have a city badge," Niemand said.

Henderson city officials have one theory about copper thieves. They've noticed the equipment confiscated by police appears to be professional and not store-bought. That's leading Henderson's park manager to believe the tools are coming from professional electricians, perhaps those unemployed by the recession.

Devin Mann