Cases of stolen scrap metal soaring, city museum latest target


Workers at the Cow Town Museum Visitors Center have repaired the damage after copper thieves targeted their facility, stealing the metal from air conditioning units.

“We noticed it coming into work,” said James Vannurden, the museum’s curator. “There’s only the empty shell now,” he said as he pointed a damaged air conditioning unit.

Wichita police said thieves, posing as workers with the City of Wichita, have been going to several city-owned buildings, including the museum, to steal copper and then sell it.

“Please look for that logo of the City of Wichita,” said Officer Paul Cruz. “If you see someone who doesn’t have that logo please call 911.”

Workers described the latest reported robbery as daring, but police said the thieves don’t care.

“We’re seeing an increase in copper thefts at the city-owned facilities,” Cruz said.

That’s because copper prices have been booming in recent years, now up to about $2.75 per pound. Victims at the museum said they’re astonished thieves were so bold given the circumstance.

“It’s pretty brazen to come out here at a city facility in a large parking lot, that’s open and well lit at night and do something like this,” Vannurden said.

In the past, Wichita Police have expressed frustration as they’ve tried to solve previous stolen metal cases. Until 2015, the department had created a scrap metal database to track all sales of scrap metal across the city.

State lawmakers liked the idea and created a statewide database for all law enforcement agencies to have access to. The department disbanded it’s program – but the state system was never funded. Meaning there’s no tracking system in place at all.

“The database continues to get pushed off by one continuing resolution by the next,” said Sgt. Trevor McDonald to KAKE News in December 2018. “In fact, we don’t have the money to set it up this time so we don’t have to comply with the law.”

As copper thefts increase, state lacks vital database to help investigators

Metal shops said that they would comply with the law but that it had to be active, first. 

A bill has been introduced in the Kansas Senate that may start that process, but it could still take time before it's finally passed.

In regards to the recent case in Cow Town, police ask the public to contact Crime Stoppers at 316-267-2111.

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