How hard should LA go after copper wire thieves? Council members have a lively debate

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

How hard should LA go after copper wire thieves? Council members have a lively debate

LA Politics, Homepage News

Angie Orellana Hernández

February 17, 2024

A member of a historic church in South Los Angeles pointed out to Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson on Sunday that a landmark item was missing from the building: a bronze plaque.

The plaque at Bethel AME Church was related to the Great Depression, segregation and other economic downturns, but disappeared a few weeks ago, Harris-Dawson said. The plaque may have been stolen


amid a wave of copper wire and bronze thefts across the city.

I think we’re dealing with a mutation of petty theft that we need to look at seriously and deeply, said Harris-Dawson, whose district also has streets targeted by thieves.

The anecdote was shared at the end of a


an hour-long debate on Wednesday in which more than half of the city council spoke out on whether or not to approve motions by councilors Kevin de Len and Traci Park to curb the theft of copper wires. In addition to wire theft, the stimulating conversation highlighted the differing approaches to crime among council members, with some wanting more preventive efforts and others calling for accountability.

The motions that have been passed


on a 13-2 vote, will create a task force with the Los Angeles Police Department and the Bureau of Street Lighting and establish a rewards program to encourage the public to submit information about the thefts.

Council Member Eunisses Hernandez said the rewards program is missing crucial steps to understand the root cause of this problem.

Why don’t we explore how we can prevent this cycle together, instead of expanding the city’s efforts and resources with a reward program that intervenes only after the damage has been done and focuses on punitive measures? said Hernandez, who voted no on the motions.

Hernandez praised a Jan. 9 motion by Councilwoman Heather Hutt


which called for a study on the replacement of copper wires with solar lighting. Such efforts, Hernandez said, address the root causes of the problem rather than spending money on band-aid solutions. (Hutt did not speak during Wednesday’s discussion, but voted to approve both motions.)

Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez supported the rewards program, noting that accountability was necessary to avoid further costs to taxpayers.

We can’t make it easier for them to continue breaking into these systems, stealing the copper wire, cashing in on it and creating a greater threat to public safety, Rodriguez said of the thieves.

Council Chairman Paul Krekorian shifted the council’s attention to the unscrupulous buyers of stolen metal,


he said this was the real cause of the problem.

Since November Krekorian and City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto targets those who receive the stolen metal. He said the way was to prevent the crime

no longer

fix it

no longer


From his district, Port District Councilman Tim McOsker lamented the loss of plaques at the American Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial and other memorials honoring fishing industry families and longshoremen.

McOsker noted that Los Angeles Port Police had arrested three people

identified as

Dionzay Tisby, 42, Brittany Draper, 37, and Deona Jackson, 28 on suspicion of grand theft in connection with the plaque theft.

Councilman Hugo Soto-Martnez joined Hernandez in opposing the motions, even though he had initially supported the idea. He asked his colleagues to understand that the thefts may have been committed by people living in poverty and forced to commit acts of desperation.

Soto-Martnez urged the council to be smart lawmakers and pursue prevention efforts.

It’s not just about getting rewards and criminalizing it, and I understand that’s probably part of the solution. But ultimately it won’t solve the problem, Soto-Martnez said.

In response, Councilmember Imelda Padilla acknowledged Soto-Martnez’s point about poverty, but disagreed that the individuals responsible were impoverished criminals.

“This is really high-level, sophisticated, smart, savvy, organized crime,” she said.

Councilman John Lee also opposed Soto-Martnez, noting that the money he could happily spend on youth centers or community programs is instead going to expensive measures to deter thieves.

We focus on the person who commits the crime and no longer on the victim, he said. I don’t understand why we shouldn’t look at everything at our disposal.

De Len said he appreciated the range of perspectives on the issue, but clarified that the motions were intended to prioritize public safety and address public concerns.



In late December, thieves stole a third of the copper wires from the 6th Street Viduct. De Len, whose district includes the structure, said the individuals could receive a “street value” of $11,000 for the stolen material. But repairs will cost taxpayers $2.5 million.

This is not a criminalization of this act, De Len said, because it is already a crime.


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