Copper wire theft spree raises call for LAPD crackdown

Wave News Services

Two vare calling for the creation of a police task force to crackdown on copper wire thefts that have impacted neighborhoods throughout the city.

Council Members Kevin de León and Traci Park held a joint news conference at the 6th Street Viaduct, which connects Boyle Heights and downtown L.A.’s Arts District, a site that has become symbolic of the copper thievery.

“Thieves are literally picking our city apart for parts to sell for scraps,” de León said.

Some 38,000 feet of copper wire, the equivalent of just over 7 miles in length, have been stripped and stolen from the bridge, according to officials. The cost of those repairs is expected to surpass $2.5 million.

“This issue has been escalating at an alarming rate. Just five years ago, we were dealing with 500 to 600 cases on an annual basis.” 

De León said enough is enough and it is time for action de León is taking $400,000 from his discretionary budget to start a task force, joining LAPD and the city attorney’s office as a pilot program for the rest of the city.

According to de León, that number has skyrocketed to more than 6,700 cases with repair costs going more than $17 million.

“This is not just a petty theft crime,” Park said. “These criminals are creating public safety issues that impact crime, traffic, and pedestrian safety.”

The widespread thefts have cost the city millions of dollars in infrastructure repair and left thousands of streetlights in the dark, including parts of the 6th Street bridge, officials say.

“We’ve seen young folks steal copper wire,” de León said. “We’ve seen unhoused folks steal copper wire. We’ve seen folks who may or may not be contractors wearing vests official-looking vests.”

De León and Traci Park introduced their proposal at the City Council last week.

The creation of the proposed police task force would cost the city an estimated $400,000 to start. A proposed reward program would encourage people to report such thefts.

According to the Los Angeles Police Department, thieves often cash in by selling the stolen copper at recycling centers.

“We’ll be looking into the receivers, the individuals or businesses that potentially are receiving these stolen items,” LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Oreb said.

City officials say nearly 4,000 inoperable lights have been identified in Boyle Heights and surrounding neighborhoods due to copper wire theft.

De León and Park are establishing a citywide reward program. Park says this problem affects everyone.

According to Hollenbeck Division in the last year, there were 345 calls for service just to the bridge for copper-wire theft and 11 people were arrested. 

For LAPD’s Captain Celina Robles and Officer Johnny Altamirano, that means not just going after the thief but also monitoring the recycling or those purchasing the wiring from the bad guys.

The crackdown against copper-wire thieves could not come soon enough for Margarita Amador, a community activist not happy about those thefts.

“As long as they keep buying it,” she said, “they’re going to keep taking it.”