Two employees of the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) were arrested for grand theft after allegedly stealing reels of copper wire from the utility, according to an article on Firstcoastnews.com. The investigation began when another woman was apparently arrested in connection with $135,000 worth of copper wire taken from the JEA salvage yard.
Theft of copper wire has become a much more prevalent crime over the years in Jacksonville and throughout the country. As the price of copper wire went up in the U.S. and internationally (by more than 5 times in the mid 2000’s), copper wire thefts have increased as well. One government study estimated that $1 billion worth of copper wire is stolen each year in the U.S. These thefts often occur at abandoned homes, warehouses and construction sites. Copper thieves look for copper wire in air conditioning units, exposed pipes and many other locations. However, stealing copper can be dangerous, as these people found out when they were electrocuted trying to cut through power lines made of copper.
In Florida, theft can be a fairly minor crime or it can be very serious with significant penalties. If the value of the property stolen is less than $300, the theft is a misdemeanor crime in Florida. Because copper is so valuable these days, most copper thefts of any significance will be well above that threshold. If the value of the property is $100,000 or more, the crime is grand theft and would be a first degree felony punishable by a maximum 15 years in prison. While most theft cases are misdemeanors or in the $300 to $20,000 range making the crime a third degree felony punishable by a maximum of 5 years in prison (but often resolved with minimal jail time or probation), copper theft cases can get over the $100,000 threshold and into the first degree felony range fairly quickly.