Pacific Northwest leads nation in infrastructure vandalism

Copper wire theft in our state is rampant. One quarter of the thefts in North America take place in Oregon and Washington. It’s a serious problem that’s downing telecommunication and even endangering lives.

In Maple Valley, Rick Geist’s phone service was cut off - not by his provider, CenturyLink, but rather by thieves who cut the cable to sell at local scrap yards for pennies on the dollar.

“And then they started cutting my fence, which really kind of got me mad,” said Rick.

Iin addition to cutting Rick’s fence, the thieves cut about a football field’s length worth of cable.

Rural areas of Pierce and South King Counties are plagued with vandals climbing poles for the copper inside telephone wires.

Rick has been chasing them off his property for months. He says his neighbors worry for their safety.

“Other people need that landline because they have medical equipment that’s attached to that telephone line. They have a heart monitor or whatever else that they’re using and can’t access the system because the line is not working,” said Rick.

Rick believes the culprits live near his property. Law enforcement has identified suspects and are working to bring them to justice.  Most of these thieves do it for drug money.

Telephone cable is full of copper wire. Right now, copper is the highest its been for a year. Scrap metal yards buy it at about $1 to $1.50 a pound.  For a 40-pound chunk of wire, thieves are getting about $20 to $30 depending on where they go. To fuel a drug habit with copper wire, vandals have to do a lot of damage to the infrastructure - and that is bad news for CenturyLink customers.

Dan Chason heads up vandalism and anti-theft efforts at Lumen, CenturyLink’s parent company. He says hospitals and 911 systems rely on what they provide.

“Yeah, we had a cut in Bremerton, last week that took down the airport at Bremerton. And it also disrupted services at the Mission Creek Correctional. It’s a prison. It took down their services. I mean, it doesn’t get more serious in that,” said Dan.

Lumen’s had 69 cases of line cutting since the first of the year in Washington state, that’s 36% of the cases in North America.

How are thieves getting away with it? One way is in disguise, says Dan.

“They put a magnetic sign on their vehicle that says, you know, Joe’s cable service. They put on a hard hat, they put on a vest, and they put a cone in the road, and they go climb the pole and start cutting cable,” he said.

Both law enforcement and Lumen are asking people to keep an eye out.

“We caught them Christmas morning out here on my driveway,” said Rick, who took matters into his own hands by tracking and helping apprehend thieves on his property. “Police did a great job. I mean, we worked this for almost three weeks.”

Both CenturyLink and the King County Sheriff’s Office want your help.

“If you see garbage bags with cable or its plastic sheathing visible, call the company right away. They’ll get the cops out there to investigate,” said Dan Chason.

He’s asked we share his direct email so tips can be sent directly to him Daniel.Chason@lumen.com or email KIRO 7 at consumer@kiro7.com.