By Edwin Folven, 10/04/2012
Police ask for public’s help to catch suspects
Thieves continue to steal copper wire from streetlights in the city, causing power outages and frustrating law enforcement officials, who are scrambling to prevent the thefts.
Copper wire was recently stolen from more than 60 streetlights in Hancock Park, according to the office of City Councilman Tom LaBonge, 4th District. The thieves primarily struck along June Street from 6th Street to Beverly Boulevard, and on Muirfield Road, near 4th and 5th streets.
“It is very dangerous because you can get electrocuted,” LaBonge said. “It goes in periods. It’s a spree that had been quiet, but now it seems like it is coming back. We are calling on our neighborhood residents to keep their eyes open.”
Investigators from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division confirmed that copper wire thefts are a problem throughout the division. Officer Brent Hopkins, with the Wilshire Division Burglary Unit, said it is difficult to catch the thieves, who often operate at night or disguise themselves like city work crews. Hopkins added that the copper wire is sold as scrap metal, with recyclers paying upwards of $3 per pound.
“The hard thing for us is that if we don’t get reports about the street light thefts happening, it is hard to find the suspects,” Hopkins said. Hopkins said officers recently arrested two suspects in the Park La Brea complex who were allegedly attempting to steal copper pipes. Park La Brea security officers detained Christopher Lynch, 47, and Kelvin Lynch, 42, on Sept. 27 in the basement of Tower 47 at 357 S. Curson Ave. Hopkins added that the brothers do not live in Park La Brea, and likely entered the complex looking for recyclables.
“It looks to me like a crime of opportunity. I think they were in there dumpster diving and came across these pipes,” Hopkins said. “It’s a commodity because of the price of copper. It is definitely in demand, and it’s available because there is a lot of construction.”
Police are in the process of filing theft charges against the Lynches, and the case is ongoing. Hopkins credited the security guards for detaining the suspects, and said the arrest was a good example of how partnerships with the community can address the problem. Anyone who sees an unauthorized individual opening the base of a streetlight or removing wire should call 911. The thieves often pose as utility workers and drive similar trucks or vans, so people should look for markings or signage indicating they are from the city, or are a licensed contractor. All workers should wear red vests and hard hats, and should carry identification that can be presented upon request.