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PHOENIX -- The theft of metal across Arizona is not a new problem.

It has been going on for years. Thieves have stolen hundreds of air conditioners from homes and churches. Wire from an airport was stripped down to point that runway lights were affected. One southern Arizona city lost 911 service for several hours when cable was cut and stolen.

The Arizona House Commerce Committee will meet Wednesday morning on legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Tom Forese that would create an unprecedented theft notification system that would be free to use. It would allow police agencies to send detailed descriptions of stolen property to recycling operations within a 100-mile radius of the theft site in real time.

"If [recycling operations] are not registered under the free theft notification system, the police will be able to shut them down. That is going to be a big step in moving forward to stop the bad guys," he said.

Forese said Arizona has some of the nation's toughest laws against metal thieves and he wants the felony penalties stepped up for anybody convicted of theft that puts lives in danger.

"If they have put the public in danger we want to pursue a Class 2 felony. This is a problem that affects society. If we don't do something it's going to get a lot worse."

Forese said there have been about 4,000 cases of metal theft in Maricopa County with only about 40 prosecutions and law enforcement and prosecutors need the tools to make an example out of the metal thieves who are caught. One of the worst cases that Forese has been made aware of was the theft of Southwest Gas meters that exposed live gas lines.

"This is more than metal theft. This is the vandalism of infrastructure."

Jim Cross, Reporter

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