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Copper theft a growing problem: SaskPower

Watch above: Saskatoon police and SaskPower are teaming in an effort to curb the increasing incidents of copper wire theft from substations. Amber Rockliffe finds out more about the crime and its connection to the drug trade.

SASKATOON – SaskPower has teamed up with the Saskatoon Police Service to tackle the problem of copper theft from electrical sites. SaskPower said copper thieves are putting their lives, and workers’ lives, at risk, and even causing power outages.

“We did have an outage in a rural area which affected some large industrial customers in 2013,” explained Sean McKim, SaskPower’s director of enterprise security.

“And in 2014, part of the west side of Saskatoon was affected by an outage where metal theft was involved,” he said.

Sgt. Jason Pfeil with the Saskatoon Police Service said the thieves often burn off the wire coating, sending hazardous pollutants into the air.

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“The ash residue from that burn is highly toxic and very dangerous,” Pfeil explained.

“One place in particular in Saskatchewan, in the Pike Lake campground, metal thieves were taking their stolen copper wire out and burning them in the barbeque pits there.”

Saskpower has created a video about copper theft to raise awareness, and warn people just how risky the crime is.

Pfeil said the surge in thefts is linked to other criminal activity.

“Drug dependency happens to go hand-in-hand with metal theft. You find your methamphetamine users are often involved in metal theft,” Pfeil said.

McKim said copper prices have increased over the past few years, and thieves often trade it for cash.

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“They’ll take it to metal recyclers that will accept the material, so part of our effort is not only to try and catch thieves, and have the justice system and police be able to deal with thieves effectively, but to inform the public and metal recyclers,” McKim explained.

SaskPower is working with the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Environment, RCMP, private companies, and other pertinent parties to set up a task force to deal with the problem. The task force hopes to create legislation that would ensure metal thieves are charged not only for the dollar value of the theft, but also their threat to the public.