Well organized copper thieves targeting Tacoma waterway

TACOMA, Wash. -- A beautiful pedestrian walkway in Tacoma is being ruined by copper thieves who are stealing the wiring for the lights along the path.

There seems to be some meticulous planning that goes into the recent heists. One night the thieves set up the tools, then the next night they break the locks. They come back on the third night to strip away the wire.

The esplanade is an essential part of the revitalization underway along Tacoma's Thea Foss waterway. And it's those improvements that have caught the attention of thieves.

"It is frustrating. It's very time consuming for us. And for us it's a concern because it's public safety," said Lianna Collinge of the Foss Waterway Owners Association.

Collinge is mow arranging for a third set of repairs to the damaged network of lights. The crimes have already cost the property owners $17,000.

Collinge said it's been an expensive headache, but at least someone spotted one of the thieves in the most recent incident.

"At 3:30 in the morning, it was suspicious so he went and checked and found the box open and that the theft had occurred," she said.

What's unusual about the crimes is the elaborate, multi-night staging.

"They come in one night, gain access to the box. The second night they attach their device and the third night they come in and reel, so that on any given night they're just there for a minute or two," Collinge said.

Property owners have responded to the theft by installing locks on the electrical boxes, but the thief or thieves also took countermeasures.

"They go in and damage the locking mechanism to gain access," Collinge said.

The copper theft hurts more than the property owners. The scenic mile-and-a-half walkway hosts all kinds of public events that are put at risk by stealing scrap metal that only sells for $2.30 per pound.

A private security company is now keeping close watch on the area, and the owners association may also invest in surveillance cameras as added insurance.