As Thieves Turn to Copper, Security Systems Follow

Thefts turning epidemic; some victims turn to electronic systems for protection

Save for the winter snowbirds, most residents don't have to worry about their homes being hit, because thieves tend to target abandoned homes, new constructions and properties being renovated.

Some Detroit thieves are stripping even live utility wires. At least six people have died, said Michael Lynch, DTE's chief security officer. Detroit police have formed a task force to track down thieves, though it's tough to catch them unless they're in the act.

Even DTE has been hit. Copper thieves broke into a fenced service center that stored wire 38 times in the span of seven months, Lynch said. The company finally replaced the chain link fence with a solid, corrugated one.

The cost to enhance security ultimately will translate into higher costs for customers, Lynch said.

Homes being sold are a major target, said Sherri Saad, a real estate agent with ReMax Prestige of Dearborn Heights.

One Detroit home she was selling had a lock box on the door, so the thieves removed the entire doorknob to get in, she said.

"They stole all the plumbing and the whole furnace," she said. "They're getting their hands on everything they can get."

Spreading losses

The thefts cost homeowners and, in Spivey's case, church congregation members who've donated money to help offset the church's out-of-pocket costs. That money goes to fixing the domino-effect problems the thefts cause -- such as security guards for when the power was cut, downing the alarm systems and leaving the commercial air conditioning units vulnerable.

The loss of power also caused food in the refrigerator and freezer to spoil.

"I'm concerned if we go to our insurance company one more time, they'll deny us or drop us entirely," Spivey said.

Spivey's next plan is to install a surveillance camera.

"We've been OK for the last ... well, only three weeks," he said, palms pressed together as if in prayer.

"I'll keep my fingers crossed."