WATERVILLE – A change to state law might deter copper thieves, according to Waterville’s police chief.

Since the housing bubble burst three years ago, Chief Joseph Massey said, metal thefts have been on the rise.

Thieves, he said, break into construction sites and empty homes, strip out copper pipes and wiring and sell them to scrap dealers.

One scrap dealer said that high-grade copper commands $3.05 per pound.

Copper thefts have also been reported at Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro power substations.

As of early August, the CMP substation in Topsham was hit twice in seven weeks. Between the two incidents, the power company reported $7,000 worth of copper wire stolen.

In mid-July, nearly 5,000 customers were without power for two hours because copper wiring was stolen from a Bangor Hydro Electric Co. substation in Brooksville.

Deaths have also been reported. Several people were electrocuted in recent months when they attempted to steal copper in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Massey said a stricter state statute might act as a deterrent and help police solve more copper theft crimes.

Current law requires scrap dealers to keep records of transactions exceeding 100 pounds or $50 and whom they pay, and make payments only by check.

Massey said some states require the check be mailed to sellers rather than handed to them at the time of the sale.

He said it might be useful if scrap metal dealers were required to photocopy sellers’ identification cards and photograph the scrap metal they bring in.

Instituting a resale waiting period for scrap metal dealers could also be a possibility.

Massey said he’ll present his findings this fall at a meeting of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, then work with state Rep. Thomas Longstaff, D-Waterville, to possibly introduce legislation or amend current legislation on the matter.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Beth Staples can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:

[email protected]