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Nov 14, 2012 9:20 AM by Samantha Ptashkin

Tucsonans trying to put a lock on metal theft

TUCSON- From street lights to AC units, if it's made of metal, it's a target in Tucson.

"It's just a huge problem," says Jason Wong, who manages several properties at Weston Plaza on First Avenue and Prince Road.

A few months ago, his tenants called him, saying they didn't have running water. "I came out to find the backflow assembly was stolen," Wong says.

So he bought a new water valve for about $2,500. "My tenants obviously can't operate without running water," Wong says.

He locked the new assembly in a cage, thinking that would solve the problem. Less than two days later he found out he was wrong. "To my surprise the backflow was stolen again," Wong says. "It was stolen twice within 30 hours."

Unfortunately it wasn't the first or second time thieves have targeted Wong's properties. "I had another property where I had three air conditioners vandalized for their copper," Wong says.

He says over the last couple of years, he has probably spent at least $25,000 replacing stolen items.

And he's not the only one.

Tucson Police Lt. Tom Earley says since January 2012 they've had more than 700 cases of metal theft, costing about $2.5 million.

Lt. Earley says the prime suspects are drug addicts, looking to make some cash to fuel their addictions. The prime targets are abandoned buildings, both residential and commercial. "The process of stealing takes some time," Lt. Earley says. "So they tend to go places where they're not rushed."

Last May, TPD formed the "Metal Theft Reduction Apprehension Plan" or MTRAP. "It started off as education for our officers to familiarize them with the problem of metal theft," Lt. Earley says. "What's stolen, when it's stolen, how it's stolen."

TPD is also trying to educate the community.

It won't get Wong his $25,000 back. "It will not be totally solved," Wong says.

But he hopes it will help cut costs and crime in the future.

Local government officials and business leaders will be meeting Thursday, November 15, for a "Put a Lock on Metal Theft" special forum. It will be from 8am to 9:30am in the Copper Room at Randolph Golf Course, 200 S. Randolph Way in Reid Park.

The event is free, but you are required to register in advance online at http://mpaaz.org/ .

For more information, contact Metropolitan Pima Alliance at (520) 878-8811.

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