JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Skyrocketing prices for metals, especially copper, has turned a minor nuisance into an epidemic.
Copper theft costs over $1 billion a year according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Two years ago Mississippi enacted a law to make it tougher for thieves to cash in on stolen metal. But some are wondering if the law is working. Monday night the latest evidence of copper theft was at Chalet Village Apartments near downtown Jackson. Vandals broke in, ripping copper out of the wall, stealing appliances and metal pipes, leaving behind a river of water flowing out the front door and sky high repair bills.
"When they took the hot water heaters, there's obviously some type of copper down there," according to the Director of the West Jackson Community Development Corporation that runs the apartment complex.
The collateral damage done ripping pipes and wires out of walls, far exceeds the actual cost of the copper stolen. In January thieves hit Cowboy Maloney's Electric City and other surrounding businesses.
"They got a grand total of somewhere between $300 to $400 worth of copper. They did between $50,000 to $75,000 worth of damage to heating and air conditioning systems and of course they got off scott free," said the owner Con Maloney.
Despite the state law and metal processors like this one having to tag and hold copper for three days, copper theft remains non stop in this city."
People selling scrap metal can no longer get cash, instead they get a check.
"That's a big deterrent for somebody that wants to go out may have a drug problem or something wants to go steal the copper and sell it that day," according to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
Scrap yards have to register and report with the Secretary of State. But is the law being enforced and is it working?
"Stronger laws are only good as long as they are enforced. Somewhere, somehow, somebody ought to be figuring out who is buying this copper and they are the ones who ought to go to prison for a long, long time," said Maloney.
Copper sells for $2.90 a pound. When it goes to $4 per pound it's a real target for thieves. Officials want all metal recyclers compliant, adding enforcement and prosecution of copper thieves is critical to success.