Fifteen people are arrested in a three-week operation targeting metal theft. The Tulare County Sheriff's Department says farmers are losing thousands of dollars. Thieves are ripping out copper wire that powers water pumps. It has happened 30 times in the last three months.
Water gives life to our valley, but lately fields are dry because of copper wire theft. The Tulare County Sheriff's Department says criminals are stealing wire that powers farmers' pumps. Sheriff Bill Wittman explains how they’re doing it.
“Digging up a portion of the wire, tying the cable to their car, and taking off and ripping up hundreds of feet of it,” said Sheriff Wittman.
It’s happening mostly in rural areas like Tipton and Pixley. The sheriff knows first-hand how devastating ag theft can be.
“I farm myself and I know if my pump goes out, my trees are in danger of being destroyed,” said Sheriff Wittman.
Replacing stolen wire can cost $5,000 per pump. The operation nets 15 arrests. Extra detectives are brought in to work undercover, at night, in rural farmlands. A special plane helps find people in the dark.
“The technology that plane provides to us allows us to see subjects that are moving in areas a mile off the roadway where we wouldn't normally be able to locate people,” said Sgt. Jody Cox of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department.
Deputies believe thieves are stealing the wire to sell it and buy drugs. Five people who allegedly bought stolen wire are also arrested. Six recyclers are cited for not keeping records of sales.
One business owner tells CBS47 he'll only answer to a judge when he has his day in court. The sheriff says the cycle of ag wire theft ends now.
“We're just not going to tolerate it. We're going to put all our assets we can possibly muster up in the direction of these guys stealing copper wire and ripping off our ranchers,” said Sheriff Wittman.
As of Monday, two detectives were added to the ag crimes unit. The operation will continue in other areas of the county.