COLUMBIA - Police are trying to identify a copper thief they said took scrap metal from the Columbia Water and Light Department multiple times over the past several months.
At 3:27 a.m. Tuesday, a city employee called the Columbia Police Department to report a theft in progress, Police Capt. Brad Nelson said. He said an officer responding to the call interrupted the suspect stealing scrap metal from a metal bin in the electrical distribution facility's parking lot, located at 1514 E. Business Loop 70.
Columbia Water and Light Department spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said the area is a gated security area where the department keeps supplies.
The suspect led the officer on a brief foot pursuit before getting away. Nelson said police are working to identify the suspect, who he said stole several hundred pounds of copper over the past couple of months.
Nelson said Tuesday's incident is part of a continuing increase in copper theft in Columbia. Copper can sell for a little less than $4 per pound, making it a potentially lucrative target for thieves, according to the New York Mercantile Exchange.
"Certainly the city of Columbia is not immune to theft," Nelson said.
The Missouri General Assembly passed legislation this year to help curb the thefts by tracking scrap copper sales and regulating what scrap can be sold. Nelson said the department tries to work with scrap metal dealers to identify potential thieves.
"We hope the scrap metal place will call us if they see something suspicious," Nelson said. He said suspicious activity could include frequent repeat sellers but that it's hard to identify stolen scrap metal.
Kacprowicz declined to comment further on the incident, citing the police investigation.
In March, $20,000 worth of copper was taken from MU's Discovery Ridge construction site. In April, $19,000 worth of copper was taken from the MU School of Journalism's new Donald W. Reynolds Institute construction site.