Local sheriff sparks idea for AT&T reward for information on copper thefts

TULSA, Okla. — Muskogee Sheriff Andy Simmons said he approached AT&T with a mutually beneficial idea. He asked the company to offer a $5,000 reward for information that would help law enforcement and prosecutors get copper thieves off of the streets and save the copper lines the telecommunications company pays millions of dollars to replace.

FOX23 talked with local law enforcement about the widespread problems. It’s not just AT&T’s lines getting hit.

Six counties in eastern Oklahoma have been the target of copper thieves since January 2022 — Tulsa, Muskogee, Pittsburg, Osage, Rogers and Washington.

Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton says he has seen 20 cases of copper theft this year, compared to 45 over the last 6 years.

He said those who are stealing the copper are low-level career criminals who cost utility companies thousands of dollars in repairs to get small amounts of money for the copper, which is often used for drugs.

“The same individuals who are involved with the theft of copper are also the ones who steal catalytic converters, trailers and everything else. Crimes of opportunity,” Walton explained. “We certainly see that these individuals — stereotypically … they support a drug habit. They don’t work. They’re the absolute parasite of any community.”

Tulsa Police Lt. Chad Murtaugh works on Street Crimes. He said he sees several copper theft cases each day.

The city of Tulsa has been battling consistent copper thefts so much that it switched to aluminum in wiring in city lighting and installed hardened doors on light pole bases.

A spokesperson for the city said there are now stickers on light poles that say ‘Aluminum wire is being used,’ to deter thieves looking for copper.

A couple of years ago, the city had replace lights on several highways because copper thieves stripped them of copper.

“In turn, it costs the city millions of dollars to turn the lights back on and make the roadway safer for the traveling public,” Murtaugh said.

That’s money that’s not spent on city programs.

“No, not for law enforcement, for fire safety, for any type of educational services. It’s money that could be spent elsewhere to better the city that they had to use it to replace wiring because of some people that wanted to take a short-cut and get a quick fix,” Murtaugh said.

Anyone with information about copper thefts and vandalism specific to AT&T can anonymously report it to AT&T Asset Protection at 800-807-4205.