Sedgwick Co. DA tackling copper theft problem

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WICHITA -- It's a problem that skyrocketed in recent years, and Marc Bennett wants to put an end to copper thefts.

"I would say it's grown exponentially over the last 10 years nationwide, said Bennett, the district attorney for Sedgwick County. "Surprising how many places are trying to get a handle on this."

The challenge is that there are too many people involved in the theft ring: victims, thieves and buyers. Bennett said he'd like to see a law catch up with the crime, which has touched many in the community.

"Talking to a group of ministers. They're talking about the fact that they have air conditioning units, where the copper has been taken off the back," he said. "Talk to farmers in the western part of the county. It's central irrigation systems that are getting hit. Everywhere you go, urban, rural, this is an issue."

Yet some feel the police departments and prosecutors aren't doing enough, even as the evidence seems to stack against criminals.

"About 15-20 minutes after we got hit with the name, address, license numbers, everything... filed a report. No follow-up. Nothing," said Ken Mueller of Midwest Scrap Management.

Bennett expects things could change soon. This past year, he helped bring a bill to state lawmakers. He said it was sent back to revision and overlooked due to other important issues, like education.

Because of the nationwide problem -- the fact that it often crosses state lines -- Bennett said he's anxious to get something passed.

"I'll be honest with you, I've not seen any silver bullets in any other jurisdictions," he said. "There's no one who's figured out the way to put an end to this. It's an ongoing issue and one we'll continue to have to fight for years."

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