PHOENIX -- Four people are in custody and at least one more is outstanding in connection with the theft of hundreds of bronze vases from a Phoenix cemetery earlier this week.
According to Officer James Holmes of the Phoenix Police Department, somebody stole the bronze vases adorning 500 graves at Phoenix Memorial Cemetery. The theft happened sometime between 4 p.m. Sunday and 9 a.m. Monday.
Each of those vases is worth about $480, making the total take on the theft about $240,000.
Detectives specializing in metal theft were immediately brought in to work the case. One of the first things they did was alert businesses that buy and sell metal about theft and the possibility that they could see the stolen vases come their shops Early Tuesday afternoon, one of those businesses, Vehicle Liquidator, contacted the detectives to let them know two men were trying to sell some of the bronze vases.
Officers took Matthew Sheets, 34, and an unidentified 44-year-old man into custody.
In questioning Sheets and the second man, detectives developed probable cause to arrest Troy Yancy, 47 and Acacia Odowd, 36, in connection with the theft.
Holmes said the grave of Officer Nick Erfle, who was killed in the line of duty in September 2007, was one of those robbed of its bronze vase.
The investigation is ongoing. Holmes there is still at least one suspect outstanding.
Metal theft is a major issue throughout the country. Between high prices for several metals and the struggling economy, metal theft is on the rise. It's quick cash for the thieves, but it costs Phoenix residents and business more than $30 million each year.
The Department of Energy, copper theft alone costs the country $1 billion per year. The Coalition Against Copper Theft says that is a conservative estimate.
“The only thing keeping it from being an epidemic is that scrap yards are now scrutinizing the material. But theft is still rampant,” Bryan Jacobs, executive director of the Coalition Against Copper Theft, a Washington-based advocacy organization, told The New York Times in April 2011.
According to an article by The Associated Press in February, metal thieves steal catalytic converters from cars; aluminum siding and copper wiring from homes, businesses and construction sites; air conditioners from schools; and even tracks from railroads.
"It's churches, it's schools, it's county, state buildings," Michael Pollack or Pollack Real Estate Investments said. He's also a copper-theft victim. "It needs to be stopped."
"We actually refer to it as urban mining for metal in the urban environment," said Peoria police public information officer Jay Davies in January. "Largely, these things are out in public places where people aren't necessarily looking so the crooks see it as an easy target."
At the start of the year, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who has been a victim of copper thieves himself, launched a special task force to create initiatives and legislation to deal with metal thieves.
Part of that includes a statewide database. Any Arizona business that trades in scrap metal is required to enter all of its transactions into the AzDPS LeadsOnline system within 24 hours.Failing to do so is a class 1 misdemeanor.
Arizona's law dealing with scrap metal (ARS 44-1642) already required scrap metal dealer to keep extensive on-site records, including photographs of the metal purchased and a physical description of the seller, as well as a photograph and a fingerprint.
In addition, dealers are not allowed to make on-site payments. They have to mail a check or money order to a physical address.
For many, including Pollack, the goal now is to develop harsher penalties and punishments for metal thieves.