KIRO NEWSRADIO

Washington copper wire thefts cost Lumen $500,000 this year

Apr 5, 2024, 5:26 PM

Photo: When it comes to infrastructure vandalism, particularly copper wire theft, Washington and Or...

When it comes to infrastructure vandalism, particularly copper wire theft, Washington and Oregon have a major problem, according to CenturyLink. (Photo: James Lynch, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: James Lynch, KIRO Newsradio)

When it comes to infrastructure vandalism, particularly copper wire theft, Washington and Oregon have a major problem, according to CenturyLink.

Dan Chason with CenturyLink’s parent company Lumen said already this year, the company has had 69 cases of copper wire theft in Washington. According to KIRO 7, that’s 36% of the cases in North America. This year’s thefts have already cost the company $500,000.

“The losses generate from $5,000 to $15,000 per cut, just to replace it,” Chason said.

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However, they know the thefts can be traced to one thing.

“Narcotics. Drugs. It is a drug-driven enterprise,” Chason said. “You are having withdrawal symptoms from your habit and you see this cable hanging there and you know you can cash that in and get you a fix, that’s the driving motivation behind it.”

The impact of the thefts is wide-reaching and dangerous. It’s not just a temporary loss of a phone line.

Critical infrastructure affected by copper wire theft

“The critical infrastructure is affected. The hospitals, the airports, the ports. They shut down the Port of Portland last month. The loss of your cell signal. The loss of your TV service. The loss of your doctor being able to pull up computerized records. The loss of communications for public safety. It affects everybody,” Chason said.

The issue has been going on for over a decade. In 2011, MyNorthwest reported the copper theft epidemic could cost Puget Sound Energy millions of dollars.

In 2014, a Seattle man was convicted in what was Washington’s largest-ever copper theft. He stole 4.3 miles of copper wiring from Sound Transit.

More recently in 2022, Renton police arrested several people in connection with wire thefts.

CenturyLink is working with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to curb the problem.

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Chason said the King County Sheriff’s Office and CenturyLink are close partners in the effort to stop copper wire theft. Both encourage everyone to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.

“If you see something suspicious, say something, call police,” Chason said.

Contributing: Julia Dallas, MyNorthwest.

You can read more of James Lynch’s stories here. Follow James on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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Washington copper wire thefts cost Lumen $500,000 this year