Copper thieves are changing their approach to utility thefts and it is putting more people in danger.
"Normally they hit substations," said Independence Power and Light Director Leon Daggett. "They hit service lines. But now they are taking them off poles."
Daggett said eight locations were hit between April 15 and April 25. The general focus area has been north of Truman Road, between US-291 and the western limits of the city. In some cases, live power lines are left dangling dangerously close to the ground.
"Some kid could come along and jump on the banks there and start swinging on them," Daggett said, as he pointed to a photo taken by his security staff after one such theft by a business parking lot in the 13800 block of East US-40.
Improved security measures in the high-voltage areas that were once a crook's first choice may be what has prompted thieves to change tack.
"We've tightened up the substations," Daggett explained. "We put data dots on our copper. We mark our copper. And we tell people we mark our copper. In some places we've replaced our copper with copper clad steel. They can cut that, and it takes them all day to cut it, but it's not very valuable."
The individual pole locations include industrial, business and residential areas alike.
"It's crazy," Daggett said. "They're putting the public in jeopardy [and] they're wrecking reliability of electric service because it could cause outages with those lines gone."
He does not believe the thefts involve a ring but rather a group of individuals operating separately. He said police arrested a man Thursday morning on the 1500 block of Lee's Summit Road and another two weeks prior on US-40 by the Bass Pro Shop. That man was caught before he could steal anything, but still did $38,000 in damage.
"These criminals don't care if their actions cause adults or children to be seriously hurt or killed," Daggett said. "Law enforcement agencies tell us that the majority of the thieves only care about one thing - supporting their drug habit."
Because the locations are small and spread out, the utility cannot count on police or security to stop the problem. That's why they are asking the public to be their eyes and ears.
If you see a downed wire or anyone tampering with IPL wire or an IPL pole, and you don't see a white truck with blue "IPL" lettering on the door, Daggett is asking that you call 911 to notify police immediately.
Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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