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May 1, 2014

Thieves still wanting Shaw’s copper

MILLEDGEVILLE — Break-ins for copper returned to the vacant Shaw Building on the corner of West Andrews and South Wayne streets late Sunday night.

The Milledgeville Police Department initiated an area check at the property shortly before 11 p.m.

The two officers noticed right away that “a metal box overhead had been opened” and “copper wire cut from it,” according to the incident report.

While walking further into the building, the police heard noises from the east side.

The officers found a ladder standing upright toward the ceiling and multiple bundles of copper conduit wire. The report said MPD saw no suspects, but upon closer inspection, discovered more bundles of wire near the rear back door.

In total, police collected 14 bundles of copper wire at the location, which was transferred into evidence.

Maj. Reginald Hill, MPD criminal investigations commander, said an individual could make close to $8,000 selling that copper quantity. Stripped copper could run $3 per pound, according to a local recycling center. A foot weighs two or three pounds.

The police department opened copper theft investigations months ago when the issue began. Copper takes worth thousands of dollars have plagued the 93,000 square foot building currently under City of Milledgeville watch.

“There is so much that’s been taken out of there,” Hill said. “It’s safe to say once every couple of weeks there is someone going in [to Shaw].”

Authorities discovered the problem when the lights wouldn’t operate.

MPD saw where “someone or some people” removed the copper wiring out of most of the power boxes. The agency said previously due to the large copper wire quantity stolen, investigators believe parties involved were selling the material and were likely professionals.

Similar thefts in the vacant Family Dollar store nearby match the Shaw theft blueprint. MPD officials believe the same individuals are responsible for crimes at both locations.

Laws require pawnshops and recycling centers to report people coming in with large amounts of these materials.

Business owners load identification and transaction information into an accessible database.

“Most of the places are eager to work with us,” Hill said. “I’m certain if someone was bringing it in they would call us on it.”

Hill said the department is at a standstill. He called the copper thefts a “thorn in the side.”

“We are doing all that we can with the exception of 24-hour surveillance. It’s been really tough on us,” Hill said Wednesday.

Police patrol officers and investigators make routine walkthroughs almost daily hoping to run into a brash culprit. Different shift officers have keys to the property and log checks.

“It’s just one of those things where they’ve been able to avoid us,” the MPD investigator said.

City Manager Barry Jarrett hopes the police department can apprehend those responsible.

“We'd like to be able to get some type of restitution back on this if possible,” Jarrett said. “We don't know if that's possible or not, but we will go after it if we can.”

MPD has a reward tabbed for anyone with information about the Shaw copper thefts.

Call the police at 478-414-4000 or the Tip Line at 478-414-4413. Tips may be given directly to the Detective Bureau with an online form at www.milledgevillepd.com also.

Solar Zones, LLC. is still working toward acquiring, via a lease-purchase agreement, the former Shaw building for repurposing as a multi-purpose use facility known as the Summit Communiversity. The communiversity’s early concepts include a start up business incubator, skills training center and the Milledgeville Players 250-seat theater.

David Sinclair and supporters approached the city with the idea one year ago. The rampant criminal issue has likely influenced negotiations.

Jarrett couldn't comment whether or not the copper value leaving Shaw was affecting these proceedings.

“That's being handled by the attorneys at this point,” he said. “Naturally, I could see some consideration being given.”

 

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