Copper stopper

A citywide crackdown on copper-wire thefts has cauterized a problem that once resembled an urban epidemic.

The Sacramento City Council received an update Tuesday on these efforts, which combine law-enforcement cessation with sped-up streetlight repairs and a change in what kind of lids the city buys for utility pull boxes.

According to a city staff report, such measures have resulted in a nearly 40-percent drop in copper-wire thefts—down from 228 incidents between February 2011 and January 2012, to 139 reports a year later.

At the problem's apex, neighborhoods like Del Paso Heights, North Natomas and East Sacramento couldn't go two days without a streetlight being mutilated by thieves cashing in on streaking copper prices, “leaving blocks of residents in blackout conditions,” and a repair backlog that “stretched out to one year,” the report says.

The city has spent $1.7 million fixing up more than 20,000 stripped lamps. In April 2012, it dedicated $2 million from other sources to erase the backlog, and can now respond to vandalized equipment in 90 days or less.

It's now stamping purchased copper wire with a city identifier, the first in the state to do so. Thieves often strip stamped insulation. But when they don't, arrests can happen after the fact, and prosecutors can levy grand-theft or burglary charges.

Police sting operations, using censor-bugged spools of copper wire planted in hard-hit buildings, like a parking garage in Midtown, have also paid dividends.