Memphis council tracking down copper thieves - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Memphis council tracking down copper thieves

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Those who are victimized consider them the human equivalents to insatiable termites who appear incapable of being completely exterminated.

"At one time this was kind of like a little nuisance," said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton. "It's way beyond nuisance."

But the Wharton administration, city council and the Memphis Police Department are spearheading a cohesive new strategy to arrest and prosecute not only elusive copper thieves, but likewise the businessmen who knowingly buy their stolen scrap metal goods.

MORE: Bandits ransack new church for copper
MORE: Copper thieves hit Summer Ave. businesses

Just as pesky termites do, their criminal actions are taking nasty bites out of potential Memphis economic development projects to the tune of thousands of dollars.

"It's hurting our tax base, In that folks who are willing to come into town and invest and upgrade properties simply are not going to continue to come into Memphis," Mayor Wharton said.

"Yes, Memphis is attractive for investment, but at some point the property's so damaged investors don't want anything to do with it and it becomes totally blighted," added Steve Phillips, commercial developer.

While commercial developments make profitable targets for copper thefts, just as lucrative for them on their own black market are stores, churches and schools. Just this semester Carver High School and the adjoining elementary school have beefed up security after three air conditioning units were stripped by thieves in a two week span.

But, during a council public safety committee two issues prompted the most active discussions, including encouraging Shelby County prosecutors to take a more aggressive stance toward putting thieves behind bars.

"They caught the individual but the courts let us down, said Marshall Gordon, Memphis apartment developer. "They let this criminal who had a rap sheet a mile long out on a $300 bond. We'll never see that man again. He's in Arizona somewhere."

"We'd like to look at increased jail time for career criminals who are caught selling scrap," said Memphis Police Deputy Chief Jim Harvey. "Make it illegal to sell scrap if you got a prior arrest for a scrap crime."

Mayor Wharton said he'll be working toward closing another out for copper thieves who are crossing over scott free into neighboring Arkansas and Mississippi.

"We know that they don't want to be known as a haven for folks who are stealing," the mayor said. "So, this is why we'll be going over and sitting down with the mayors over there and meeting with them."

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