A declining economy and rising copper and aluminum prices are creating a new problem for Chicago Police: metal theft.
Police said they are targeting thieves with a new task force and a new public service announcement asking for the public's help
In the past year, ComEd has reported more that 100 incidents of metal theft. In July alone, more that $200,000 worth of wire was stolen.
"The community is at risk when thieves cut cables and wires to steal metal because critical services aren't available during emergency situations," said Deputy Chief Daniel Dugan. "The absence of services also has the potential to create emergency situations."
AT&T and People's gas are also reporting problems with stolen equipment. A favorite for thieves: gas meters which contain aluminum and copper.
Even gas meters are reportedly being targeted by thieves, which officials said could cause a safety hazard.
"The mouth (of the meter) that's going into the home is no longer controlled," said Bonnie Johnson of People's Gas. "Which could cause a gas explosion."
Police said they have increased patrols and formed a task force with local utilities, and are also counting on new laws that would keep recyclers from accepting stolen metal as scrap.
"That's been the age-old problem," Dugan said. "You would see scrappers taking fire hydrants. You should know this is property belonging to a municipality."
New fines could cost recyclers who take prohibited material $1,000 per illegal transaction and up to a year in jail. Police say the best defense may be people watching out for wire thieves in their own neighborhoods.
CrimeStoppers is offering rewards for the arrest of metal thieves. Their phone number is 1-800-535-STOP (7867).