Partnering to stop copper thefts

Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina donated $15,000 to Crime Stoppers in hopes that cash rewards will help law enforcement catch copper thieves.

BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. (WACH / AP) -- The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina are partnering with some of the state's law enforcement officials to try to prevent copper theft.

Representatives from the cooperatives took part in an event on Friday with law officers including State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel, U.S. Marshal Kelvin Washington and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.

â??Weâ??re very pleased to partner with the co-ops to help the public understand and realize the true costs of copper theft,â?? said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. â??This isnâ??t a harmless, victimless crime. Itâ??s serious, and so are we when it comes to catching these criminals.â??

A release from the cooperatives says incidents of copper theft have collectively cost the state's cooperatives nearly $1 million since the beginning of 2011.

Officials are outlined a partnership with CrimeStoppers that is designed to raise public awareness about the high financial costs and serious dangers associated with copper theft.

â??Copper thieves are costing our stateâ??s cooperatives, and more importantly our members, hundreds of thousands of dollars every year,â?? said Bill Hart, CEO of Fairfield Electric Cooperative in Blythewood where todayâ??s announcement was made. â??Too often, a thief steals less than $100 worth of wire, but we shoulder the burden of repairingthe damage that typically costs thousands.â??

Authorities say more than 25 people nationwide were killed attempting to steal copper from electric utilities last year.

Organizers discussed ways citizens can become eligible for cash rewards by reporting copper thieves.

Anyone with knowlede of copper theft is asked to contact CrimeStoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC. Tips that lead to arrest could result in a cash reward of up to $1,000.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)