PHOENIX — Thieves are stealing thousands of dollars worth of copper from Arizona’s 911 system that is powered by CenturyLink.
So far this year, the company has been the victim of 215 separate theft acts and vandalism totaling nearly $1,000,000 in damages just in the Phoenix metro area.
That’s an increase from 2021, when copper theft damages totaled about $10,000 for all of Arizona.
“Nationwide, Phoenix leads copper theft for CenturyLink by far,” said Jeff Mirasola, spokesperson of Lumen Technologies, CenturyLink’s parent company. “This is really a public safety issue.”
Criminals are targeting pedestals and cross boxes, which contain copper wires that allow residents to have internet and phone access, potentially preventing some of them from reaching emergency services.
“Seconds count when someone calls 911, and if someone has gone into one of our cross boxes and just indiscriminately rips off cables, that is going to shut down a part of the network, and they are not going to be able to make that call to 911,” Mirasola said.
Copper thieves are becoming increasingly sophisticated and are hard to identify or catch since they pose as contractors, using vans or trucks with temporary magnetic signage to steal the copper, the spokesperson said.
“They are getting bolder and doing it right in the middle of daylight,” Mirasola added.
CenturyLink attributes the increase in incidents this year to the current economic climate, inflation, and the sharp increase in copper prices.
The company has partnered with Silent Witness in hopes of getting residents involved to spot criminals in the act and call the police.
Red flags could be a vehicle with no or faulty signages and technicians with no Lumen/CenturyLink uniforms, which don’t include shorts.
“If you see something that just doesn’t look right, please call [police],” Mirasola said. “You could be saving someone from getting into a situation where they have to make an emergency call and they can’t.”
There has not been a time where a person wasn’t able to contact 911, Mirasola said. “It’s the company’s top priority to address these thefts immediately.”
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