Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Senator proposes felony sanctions for copper thieves who damage utility plants

As the number of copper thefts increase -- often to fund drug addictions -- so could the penalties.

Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, wants wants to send a message to thieves and vandals who steal copper from or damage energy production facilities.

He’s sponsoring a Senate Bill 240, which could make ripping off $50 worth of the metal a felony with a large fine or even imprisonment.

A vandal who rips off a $50 dollar piece of copper from a gas well to sell it as scrap metal, potentially causing an explosion and costing thousands of dollars in lost production time would only be slapped with a misdemeanor. But, Neville says the real cost of the crimes need to be taken into account before a suspect is charged.

“The law should take into consider the true costs of the crime to utility plants, not the value of a piece of metal.”

Last October Albuquerque police cracked down on copper thieves after they targeted recycling centers to find out who was committing the crimes. Police said then they recognized the steep increase in thefts.

The main purpose of APD's tactical plan was to educate recycling centers about a 2009 state law which mandates recyclers set aside items for five days and document who sold it to them. Many recyclers had not been reporting the names of people selling the metal.

Sen. Steven P. Neville
In this morning's news release Neville said the ramifications of power plant strikes are deep.

“Ripping off what is essentially to them scrap metal could cost thousands of dollars worth of damage and could even cause an explosion, shutting down production for days.” Neville said.

His bill would make it a felony crime to intentionally and without authorization vandalize, destroy or remove from an energy production facility any property of value, including tools, scrap metal, parts and petroleum products.

An energy production facility could be a power plant, storage or transmission facility or even oil rigs, regardless of whether such facility is still under construction or is otherwise not functioning."

If approved the bill would make it a fourth degree felony for property damage of $2,500 or less, a third degree felony if the value of property vandalized, destroyed or stolen over a six-month period has a value of over $2,500, but not more than $20,000, and a second degree felony if the value of property vandalized, destroyed or stolen over a six-month period has a value of over $20,000.

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