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Sheriff says ad campaign has boosted reports, reduced crime

Avista joins effort in hopes of curbing metal thefts

Local billboards, television and radio spots are telling residents what they can do to lower the crime rate: “Report suspicious activity.”

It’s a call to action that Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has been touting for the past year, and it’s working. Residential burglaries are at their lowest since the beginning of 2010, and he attributes the reduction to community reports.

“We now have a system that people are calling in suspicious vehicles, and we’re actually arresting people right as they’re – or just before they’re – getting in the house,” Knezovich said. “Our goal is to have the same thing happen with metal thefts.”

The Sheriff’s Office has documented 12 metal thefts in November targeting residential and commercial property. Thieves are doing more damage to the system than their monetary gain of about $2.50 per pound.

Avista Utilities blames a Sept. 5 theft of copper wire from a substation for a power outage that affected about 3,600 customers in north Spokane. That’s why Avista and other regional utilities have teamed with the Sheriff’s Office and paid for the awareness campaign.

Avista spokesman Dan Kolbet said there’s been no recent increase in these thefts, but they’re concerned about the hazards.

“It’s a crime not many people know much about,” Kolbet said. “For a lot of people, the electrical grid is a mystery. The lights magically turn on and they don’t think about all the things that have to happen.”

Power crews have installed guards on their power poles that prevent unauthorized access to ground wire and are using aluminum instead of copper as much as possible, Kolbet said.

Sheriff’s deputies have a role in this emphasis as well. A training class earlier this month taught regional law enforcement officers how to identify metal theft tools, from amateur to sophisticated.

The community can complete the emphasis by reporting crimes and suspicious activity with tools like Crime Check, run by the county’s 911 system.

Knezovich said the public service announcements on television, radio and billboards will run through the end of the year and are designed to “get the community to report crimes so we know where they’re happening so we can deal with the issue.”