Tougher Anti-Metal Theft Law Reflects Costly Damage To Property And Risk To Public Safety

February 03, 2012

A new anti-metal theft law, authored by Assemblymember Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto, stiffens penalties for a crime that's epidemic and makes the punishment more reflective of the millions of dollars in damage caused to property when copper wiring is stolen.

Due to the increasing value of metal, more and more thieves are stealing copper wiring from construction sites, digging up underground telecommunication wires and cutting wires at utility stations, said Carter, a Rialto Democrat whose measure,  AB-316,  went into effect on Jan.1.

The damage to property and the risk to public safety can be much greater than the value of the metal lost, Carter said.

Assemblymember Carter's legislation combats metal theft by classifying stolen copper materials exceeding a value of $950 as Grand Theft, which carries the harshest penalty possible. The new crime carries a fine of up to $10,000 and a maximum of three years in state prison.

This very important law is helping to deter these thefts by increasing the penalty, said Lieutenant Barbara Ferguson, Legislative Liaison for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. Metal theft accounts for one-third of all property crimes in San Bernardino County.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the fine increases from $1,000 to $2,500 with the possibility of up to a year in prison. In addition to fines, those found in violation are now responsible for paying the amount of damages and any economic loss to the victim.

In Assemblymember Carter's 62nd District, a theft of wire from a utility site caused an outage that left 25,000 residences without power in sweltering August heat.

Now that these new penalties are in place, my  hope is that thieves will think twice before they steal from our farmers, schools, churches, business owners, utilities and California taxpayers, Ms. Carter said.