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What looked like a normal scenario turned out to be theft. Security camera footage shows a woman cutting copper pipes off home using pliers.

After a surge of catalytic converter thefts and a crackdown by authorities, criminals are now stealing copper.

PHOENIX — After a tough crackdown on catalytic converter thefts, authorities said criminals are now resorting to stealing copper wires and pipes.

“We ran into this same situation multiple years ago,” said Phoenix police Sergeant Brian Bower. “It seems like there’s always a cycle.”

This summer, Arizonans saw a spike in catalytic converter thefts. To combat the problem, Phoenix police strategized and carried out operations, worked with Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to go after criminals and worked with salvage companies so they didn’t purchase stolen items, Bower said.

“Once they realize that they can’t get money for catalytic converters, a lot of thieves will go to what’s the next best opportunity and that’s going to be copper theft,” Sgt. Bower said.

RELATED: Copper wire thieves could prevent you from making a 911 call. Phoenix is leading the nation in the problem

‘Opportunity type of theft’

On Monday, 12News reported on a surge of copper wires that have been stolen from CenturyLink’s pedestals and cross boxes so far. Lumen Technologies, 

CenturyLink’s parent company says they have spent nearly $1,000,000 in repairs just in the Phoenix metro area alone because of copper wire thefts. That’s a huge increase in comparison to just $10,000 the company spent in 2021 for all of Arizona.

“It’s time for us to start putting up more security lights, maybe a gate and some other things for the community because everyone’s starting to get a little bit worried,” said Mark Anthony Melonson.

Melonson’s small condo complex near 10th Street and Camelback Road was targeted by copper thieves on September 8.

It was broad daylight, in the middle of the day, when a security camera caught a woman walking up to a copper pipe and using pliers to cut off a copper pipe that was on the outside of the condo complex.

The woman is seen in the surveillance video walking back to a car with a foot-long pipe in hand, getting in the passenger seat and a man drives off. 

The crime took less than three minutes.

“When I first saw the video and then doing this I thought ‘wow’ people are very bold to do it in the daylight,” Melonson said. “To fix it, it was about $1,7000. Very expensive for the small amount of money they would get for a dirty copper pipe.”

Sergeant Bower says these types of thefts are “opportunity type of thefts,” meaning, criminals will drive around looking for opportunities to steal things, like copper pipes.

“In order for them to have some kind of value gain, they’re doing this multiple times throughout the neighborhood,” Bower said. “The vast majority of the time, these people are going house to house looking for copper.”

RELATED: Police find 1,200 catalytic converters in Phoenix storage unit

Do’s and don’ts

If someone sees a copper theft in progress, it is never a good idea to approach the people committing the crime, Bower said.

“The best thing to do is be a great witness, get a great description of what you’re watching, and call 911,” he said.

Getting a picture or video, from a safe distance, can help authorities identify and later prosecute criminals.

“Having those ring door cameras, having extra security, and having your neighbor be able to watch over your property is absolutely essential when it comes to prevention of this type of theft,” Bower said.

He also recommends covering up exposed pipes and adding extra lights.

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