Thieves leave watery messes with latest scrap-metal target

       Petty thieves around the city continue to steal metal items, chiefly copper, doing mischief in the process, and the Westside is no exception.
       Marc Lowenstein, a chiropractor on 21st Street, discovered his sprinklers going full blast Sept. 30 when they shouldn't have been on at all. It turned out a key part of the system, the backflow preventer, had been stolen in the night.
       Two other medical practitioners on 21st Street also had their backflows stolen that night - including one that had been “secured” inside a cage after a previous theft - and similar losses occurred to two other businesses on South Eighth Street, Lowenstein reported.
       The victims believe the thieves brought the goods to a junkyard in exchange for money.
       To evade detection in such cases, the thieves typically take the backflows apart, selling the parts separately for the value of the metal. This may net them as much as $20, Lowenstein's research has shown, but the replacement cost for a backflow can run into the hundreds of dollars. His cost for the wasted water alone, which was streaming off the property when he got there, came to about $70, he said.
       One of the medical practitioners gave City Police a description of a possible suspect, but no arrest has oc-curred.
       Police have previously said the perpetrators in such cases are usually methamphetamine users who use the money to buy more of their favorite drug. “It's dumb and wasteful,” Low-enstein said. “They're not getting a lot of money for these things. It's just a little bit of copper and brass.”
       Joe Koscove, owner of Koscove Scrap Metal on the Near Westside, said he films all his transactions and requires IDs on all sales. “But not everyone [in the scrap metal business] does that,” he said. The law only requires IDs on sales over $25.
       Koscove noted that backflows are a favorite target of thieves, because usually “they're exposed and bums know they're worth money.”
       He ad-ded that he's been wary of buying such units as scrap because there have been so many thefts of late and police are trying to crack down on the problem.
       Koscove advised people to put some kind of identifying mark on their backflows, to help distinguish them if they get stolen and turn up at a recycle yard.
       Officer Bob Harris of the Police Department's Gold Hill Division agreed that putting on distinguishing marks “is a good idea.” Also, he said many companies, Springs Utilities included, “are using cages to protect their equipment” [although thieves actually removed a cage in one of the 21st Street thefts].
       “What we're telling citizens is to call us when they see anyone suspicious working on any copper fixture,” Harris added. “Eight out of 10 times it's legitimate, but we have caught people stealing copper in broad daylight, so every call to 444-7000 helps.”

Westside Pioneer article