Recent copper thefts part of larger campus and city trend

Kelly Fang/Senior Staff
The fire department responds to the explosion on campus on Monday. UC Berkeley officials believe the incident may be linked to the theft of high-voltage copper wiring, which has been a growing trend in the city

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An electrical wire theft, which UC Berkeley officials believe may be linked to the on-campus explosion, is part of a larger trend of copper thefts on campus and in the city.

Although UCPD is conducting an ongoing investigation of Monday’s theft of high-voltage copper wiring from a campus electrical facility, multiple instances of copper theft — from construction materials, decorative plaques and even toilet flushers — have occurred on campus.

The copper wiring was taken from a facility near the Big C trail, according to a UCPD Daily Activity Bulletin. The incident, however, highlights a prevalence of copper theft at UC Berkeley that, while sporadic, is costly to the campus.

Police are actively investigating the theft but do not have any suspects at this time, UCPD spokesperson Lt. Eric Tejada said.

“We have some leads in the case — there was evidence left behind,” Tejada said. “We are hoping to get some fingerprint or DNA evidence off of it.”

Tejada said that copper theft is something UCPD deals with on a regular basis on campus and that thieves commonly cash in the metal at recycling centers.

On Jan. 20, 2011, a grand theft of 500 pounds of copper wiring from Memorial Stadium while it was still under construction cost the campus $2,000, according to UCPD crime logs.

These thefts are not always crimes of opportunity but are often highly planned, Berkeley Police Department records show.

On Aug. 22, a theft of 30 feet of copper coaxial communication cable from a utility pole in northwest Berkeley interrupted telephone and cable television service to numerous homes in the surrounding area, according to a police alert on the city of Berkeley’s website.

Similar incidents occurred in a nearby city, where witnesses reported seeing a boom-equipped utility truck and workers who were wearing hard hats and orange safety vests and appeared to be doing “legitimate work,” according to the alert.

Thefts of copper increase as the price per pound increases, so because the current price of copper is on the rise, the city and its citizens must be even more vigilant, said BPD spokesperson Officer Jennifer Coats in an email.

As of Thursday evening, the price of high-grade copper is $3.26 per pound, according to NASDAQ’s website. Local metal recycling companies said they typically buy used copper at a price between $1.50 to $3.00 per pound, depending on quality.

Rafael Pinedo of Lakeside Non-ferrous Metals, a metal recycler in Oakland, said nonferrous metals are typically sold to the company at the 100-pound minimum after a screening process and 72-hour wait period.

Local police monitor the sale and purchase of scrap metal in the Bay Area and have a system in place to notify recyclers about stolen metal. Paul Forkash, the founder of Aaron Metals in Oakland, believes that middlemen are available to take the metal to be sold in different regions.

“There are some people who are not permitted, have no business license, that will buy metal off the street and will load up a truck to take it to Southern California or Nevada,” Forkash said. “The material could be very identifiable, but yet it is being transported so far out of the area that (police) would have no way of tracking it.”

Chase Schweitzer covers crime. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ChaseSchweitz.