Police, fire radio tower targeted by Indy copper thief

Thief knew code needed to enter gate

INDIANAPOLIS - A copper thief tore into a radio tower that serves Indianapolis police and fire crews, and investigating officers said they hope surveillance photos will result in an arrest before emergency crews lose some of their communication ability in the field.

Copper and other metal rip-offs have been on the rise throughout the nation, but Indianapolis Public Safety Communications Chief Tim Baughman said of this week's theft, "This is where it impacts public safety."

Surveillance cameras captured the thief entering a code used to open a gate on the tower, located on Lafayette Road near 75th Street near the Eagle Creek area of northwest Indianapolis on Tuesday.

Investigating officers said they were looking for the man, who might be a former contractor or someone who once had legitimate access to the city's 12 emergency communication towers.

"They know what they're looking at as far as what precious metals they're out scavenging, what the values of those are on the market," Baughman said.

This week's tower heist resulted in wires and an entire copper grounding system being dismantled and hauled away, Baughman said.

"There was no negative impact," he said, noting that police and paramedics did not notice any problems, because the tower remained operational.

He said the grounding system merely protects the tower equipment from any lightning strike, which is a fairly common event at the city's towers. Since there was no storm in the area immediately after this week's theft, Baughman said the tower continued to function without any trouble.

"In the perfect storm, somebody takes the ground protection out, and then a storm does play through and we do get hit by lightning, the cost of the repairs and the impact to the operations and the service is a lot higher extent," Baughman said.

He said that, even if the tower had been knocked out of service, it would have only slightly impacted police and fire crews in the area due to redundancies with other radio towers.

He said the city's network of emergency communication towers serve as many as 92 different agencies, with about 15,000 workers relying on them.

Contractors have spent the past couple days at the site replacing the copper wire and the assemblies removed by the bandit. Workers at the tower said it appeared that the theft was cut short by the tower's security system.

Even though the gate was opened with an insider's code, a new security system triggers audible alarms at the city's towers when any current is interrupted through the cutting of a wire, Baughman said. IMPD officers responded and the thief was already gone.

"We've been working for several months to add this infrastructure and security to our infrastructure so we make sure that we can maintain these operations without negatively impacting public safety," Baughman said.

He said the security upgrades on the entire tower system are costing the city nothing since the vendor, Motorola, is testing new security equipment in hopes of installing it elsewhere in the future.

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