SAN FRANCISCO
08/17/2011 02:09 pm ET | Updated Oct 17, 2011

San Francisco Copper Thieves: Local Schools Hit With Copper Crime Wave

Over the past week, San Francisco schools have been hit with a rash of copper thefts. Starting on August 10th, copper pipes were stolen from a construction site on the campus of Alice Fong Yu Alternative School on four consecutive days.

Classes began at the Inner Sunset elementary school, the first Chinese language immersion public school in the country, only two days after the thefts subsided.

SFPD Captain Curtis Lum told CBS 5 that, in addition to a school security guard, plainclothes officers will be stationed at the school and uniformed foot patrols in the area will be increased to prevent further criminal activity.

Police have a description of the subject but have not released it pending a continuing investigation.

On the day following the copper thefts at Alice Fong Yu, a similar incident was reported at the nearby Lycée Français La Pérouse, a private, French language K-12 school. That evening, an employee witnessed two men absconding with copper rain gutters previously attached to a campus building.

SFPD officials are still investigating if the thefts are the two schools are related.

Copper theft has been a longstanding issue nationwide but is becoming increasingly common as the price of the metal has skyrocketed, quadrupling in price since late 2008.

In a effort to combat the practice, the state of California, where copper theft is the most widespread, passed a law in 2009 mandating that anyone selling copper wire to scrap yards be identified, photographed and required to wait three days before receiving payment; however, the soaring price of the metal has counteracted much of law's positive effect.

The North Bay city of Vallejo has become ground zero for copper theft, with at least ten incidents occurring at local schools this summer alone. At Franklin Middle School, thieves used bolt cutters to break metal brackets to get at copper wiring, disregarding the danger posed by the 1,500 volts of electricity flowing though the wires.

Vallejo Assistant Superintendent Mel Jordan estimated copper theft has cost Vallejo schools over $100,000 and put an on-time start to the school year in jeopardy.

Last year, a string of about a dozen thefts of copper wiring from underground vaults in San Francisco temporarily left UCSF Medical Center without power and forced the hospital to go onto its backup generator. Similarly, the theft of a century-old bell from St. Michael's Korean Catholic Church in Ingleside was largely blamed on thieves looking to melt the bell down for its copper.