The University of New Mexico Physics, Astronomy and Interdisciplinary Science (PAíS) building is in its ninth month of construction, but has been dealing with an issue that plagues many parts of Albuquerque — copper theft.
According to State of New Mexico Uniform Incident Reports obtained by the Daily Lobo through the Information of Public Records Act (IPRA), during the month of October officers from the UNM Police Department responded to two separate calls at the PAíS construction site.
According to the reports, UNMPD officers responded to a commercial burglary call on Oct. 19 after a motion sensor alarm was activated.
“At approximately 02:25 hours unknowns offender(s) did enter the construction site… and removed several 10 foot sections of copper piping without authorization from the owners,” the document stated.
In the report, Miller Bonded Construction estimated a loss of $1,500 worth of copper.
In 2012, the New Mexico Legislature passed a law, known as the “scrap metal law,” in an effort to prevent stolen materials from being sold to scrap metal recycling centers.
Bill Karr, the operations manager for Acme Iron and Metal, said sellers of scrap metal must show a valid photo ID, name and address..
“Now the state monitors us and makes sure we upload to the state everyday,” Karr said. “All the information of everything we bought — all scrap yards do, not just ACME — can be accessed by police if they’re looking for certain items or certain people.”
Karr said depending on the type of copper, scrap sellers can get $1 to $2 per pound.
“We jump through a lot of hoops to make sure we’re buying legitimately,” Karr said. “If you have no ID, you won’t sell scrap here.”
From 2014 to 2017, New Mexico had 189 metal theft claims. For three years there were roughly nine claims of metal theft per 100,000 residents, according to a spreadsheet from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Despite $1,500 worth of copper stolen from the construction site, Sarah Scott, the vice president of Institutional Support Services, said it has not set progress back.
On Oct 24, at approximately 03:02, UNMPD was dispatched to the PAíS construction site. Shortly after arriving on the scene, UNMPD officers made contact with a male subject pushing a cart and holding a bag. Inside the cart was copper pipes.
UNMPD officers arrested the subject pushing the cart and made contact with another individual in the area connected to the subject with the cart. Both subjects were charged with commercial burglary, possession of burglary tools and conspiracy to commit a fourth degree felony.
To prevent copper thefts, the construction company, Miller Bonded Construction Company, took to installing camera systems along with motion sensors on the property, Lt. Trace Peck, public informations officer for UNMPD, said.
“The way (Miller Bonded Construction Company) had their alarm system, their motion sensors and everything else, this company is diversive in knowing copper thefts,” Peck said, adding that copper thefts fluctuate year to year.
Peck said he does not remember any copper thefts happening at the Farris Engineering Center — instead, he said he remembers thefts occurring during a renovation for a hospital building five years ago.
“It seems like the construction companies are getting more savvy with the cameras and surveillance systems, which is real nice because I wasn’t aware that a company would actually come in and install their own cameras,” Peck said. “Any bit helps.”
The Daily Lobo reported in February 2017 that the PAíS building is expected to be completed by July 18, 2019. The project costs upward of about $65.7 million, but received a $27 million pledge through General Obligation Bond C, which passed on Nov. 6, 2016.
Anthony Jackson is a staff reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TonyAnjackson.