MOULTRIE, Ga. -- As thefts of metal continue to plague the area, the Moultrie Police Department is spearheading a multi-agency task force to deal with the problem.
In addition to the MPD, the task force includes representatives of the Colquitt County Sheriff's Office, Georgia State Patrol, the state Department of Pardons and Paroles and the Department of Probation, according to the operations commander, Sgt. Rob Rodriguez of the Moultrie Police Department.
"We're going to try to look at the entire umbrella of how these crimes take place," Rodriguez said after the task force's initial meeting Monday. That includes everything from how the metal is stolen to how it is sold.
Both city and county law enforcement have investigated multiple cases of metal theft in the last several months. As people struggle during the down economy, recyclable metal has brought enticing prices.
An online retailer quotes up to $2.40 per pound for copper, a metal commonly used in air conditioners and in wiring. Not surprisingly, many of the reports of metal thefts have involved stolen or damaged air conditioners.
"Unfortunately, it's just a quick way to make a dollar," Rodriguez said.
The meeting Thursday was to begin making a plan to address the crimes, he said. The biggest progress is expected to be in sharing of information among the agencies.
"The same people who are committing these crimes in the city are also committing crimes in the county," Rodriguez said, but officers have been focused on solving the crimes in their own jurisdictions. This task force will allow them to piece together cases where the same people steal from locations in different jurisdictions on different occasions.
Also, the task force will set up a phone line where residents can provide anonymous information, Rodriguez said. Callers can leave their tips on a recorder, which an officer will monitor.
Rodriguez blamed the economic downturn for the increase in metal thefts. A 17-year veteran of law enforcement, he said officers used to be able to classify criminals as drug users or professional thieves or "semi-professional" thieves -- but financial problems have driven desperate people into criminal activities.
That opinion was borne out two weeks ago when sheriff's deputies arrested seven people in three cases of scrap metal theft. A sheriff's investigator said two of the seven said the thefts were to get money to pay a utility bill.
Copyright 2011 - The Moultrie Observer, Ga.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service