Eyewitness News investigates the latest trend in metal theft. We've seen copper wire taken from light poles and air conditioning units, now suspects are ripping off backflow devices. It's costing cities and businesses thousands of dollars to replace them.
These metal pipes are what's leftover after a thief recently went though Scott Butler's Clovis business complex. Five backflow devices were stolen, cutting off water to tenants until the units could be replaced.
"It's very frustrating. We know it happens. We've already had a couple projects hit with theft of copper wire from lights, so this is the new wave," said Butler.
The new wave of metal theft happens faster than stealing copper wire. Butler thinks the criminals use a heavy duty saw to cut right through the pipes. Backflow devices are required on commercial businesses to prevent contaminants from getting into the water supply. They're also used in parks, medians and landscape areas. About 70 devices have been stolen in Clovis in the last few months. A map shows the areas thieves hit. There was a rash of thefts along Shaw Avenue.
"That's been a terrible problem for us as a city and our commercial customers," said Lisa Koehn, Assistant Public Utilities Director.
Basin 1E Park isn't being watered now after someone stole two backflow devices earlier this month. They were caged and locked up. Butler says it cost him around a thousand dollars to replace each device. Clovis Police believe suspects are selling the metal out of town.
"A lot of times they're taking a lot of the metal to southern California to sell it. It's not as traceable as if they were trying to sell it locally," said Janet Stoll-Lee, Clovis Police Department spokesperson.
Koehn says City of Clovis devices are being replaced with plastic ones instead of metal. Meanwhile, Butler is trying to secure units on his property, but staying a step ahead of criminals is nearly impossible.
"We'll see what they move on next to," said Butler.
City of Fresno says backflow devices are also being stolen from parks and medians across the city, but wouldn't get into specifics, other than saying it has cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace them.
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