City launches Copperstoppers program, offers reward money

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The FBI is already cracking down on copper thieves in Tennessee, but Memphis Mayor A C Wharton believes a new city program can do things the federal government cannot.

There are cabinets ripped from the walls, gaping holes in almost every room, but not an inch of copper. That’s the scene at almost every one of the boarded up homes in a Frayser neighborhood.

Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said, “You go in and cause $10,000 worth of damage to get $200 worth of copper.”

Property owners said one of the first indications that there has been a copper theft when they walk into a home are big pieces of insulation laying everywhere.

Once they walk around, they quickly discover huge problems and thousands of dollars worth of damage.

Because of this, the city is taking action. It used private donations to launch a new program called Copperstoppers. The campaign will work like Crimestoppers and will offer rewards to people who call in tips about copper thefts.

However, it won’t involve taking any officers off the streets and away from other work.

“We’re building this fund up, and it’s going to be really worth while,” Mayor Wharton said. So far, $15,000 has been donated to use as reward money.

The FBI announced a large tri-state effort to crack down on copper thieves two months ago. So WREG asked what the city can do that the feds cannot.

“The FBI generally focuses on interstate commerce, and every one of these will not be involved in interstate commerce,” Wharton said. “We cannot wait on the FBI. They’re not going to take every case.”

Wharton added this will allow the city to stay on top of the problem, without having to wait for federal assistance.

“This is a local matter, and we’re going to deal with it locally,” he said. “We appreciate the FBI helping us, but we’ve got to help ourselves first.”

Rewards between $250 and $1,000 will be offered to people assisting in the arrest of copper thieves.