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Miami-Dade County Creates Copper Wire Crook Task Force

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Copper wire, a popular item being stolen in South Florida

Copper wire, a popular item being stolen in South Florida

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South Florida Crime

MIAMI (CBS4) – Miami-Dade County is cracking down on copper wire thefts and street light vandalism which have left South Florida drivers and neighborhoods in the dark. A Miami-Dade Public Safety Commission voted Tuesday to create a task force on scrap metal and copper wire theft.

Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Joe Martinez and Vice Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson are co-sponsors of the task force ordinance which will now go to the entire Commission to be voted on.

The task force would be made up of officers, experts, and people from the scrap yard industry. Edmonson wants them to find a way to toughen the scrap metal sales ordinance the County already has in place.

“Aside from the dangers and cost of wire stripping, this ordinance puts dealers and processors on notice: we will not allow ‘cash and carry,'” said Vice Chairwoman Edmonson. “The buyer of this stolen metal is just as much a guilty party. The task force will work with scrap metal dealers and inform them of this ordinance, making it more difficult for junk dealers to sell illegally stripped wire. We want legitimate scrap dealers to stay in business and contribute to the County’s economy.”

Martinez also wants a crackdown on illicit scrap yards that are buying the copper, while taxpayers foot the bill to repair the lights.

Managers of the national group, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries said they support crackdowns on copper thefts, but they believe the focus should be on the thieves, so law abiding businesses aren’t hurt.

According to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), 30 lights along I-95 between NW 30th and 79th Streets have been targeted in the past year alone. This has become economically burdensome since the County is required to pay to replace or repair the stolen or vandalized street lights it owns.

It’s also unsafe.

“This kind of vandalism poses a serious threat for residents and area commuters who are forced to drive without adequate street lighting,” said Chairman Martinez. “That doesn’t even cover serious injury or death for those who would tamper with wiring, and the amount of taxpayer money that goes into all the repairs. I will continue working closely with Vice Chairwoman Edmonson, FPL and FDOT to ensure our residents’ safety and prevent future incidents.”

Edmonson said, “We are getting more aggressive because number one is the safety of our residents.  We have residents who are afraid to come out of their homes at night because of the darkness.”

Just last week, 52-year-old Thelma Morrow was critically hurt after being struck by a car while crossing NW 7th Avenue and 59th Street, a road darkened by a lack of street lights which had been targeted by copper wire thieves, according to Miami Fire Rescue officials.

The accident took place in Commissioner Edmonson’s District, which includes Brownsville and Liberty City, areas most affected by the copper crooks.

In the last 4 to 6 months, thieves have stolen copper wire from 100 lights in Palm Beach County as well, leaving drivers in the dark for 33 miles. Officials there have started to install anti-theft devices on the light poles.

The Florida Highway Patrol is asking for your help. If you see a driver stopped near a light pole on I-95, give them a call right away so they can investigate.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling has also set up a website where law enforcement authorities in the United States and Canada can report thefts. The information is relayed to recycling plants within 100 miles of the incident.

In addition to the task force, Edmonson is planning on asking state representatives in Tallahassee to create a bill that will increase the fines for scrap metal companies who buy stolen copper wiring.

If you have information about copper wire crimes, call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at (305) 471-TIPS (8477). Calls can remain anonymous.

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