Palm Desert, Calif. - Metal parts and wiring that hold together a communities most essential utilities like water and electricity are being ripped apart and sold for scrap at increasing, and alarming rates.
"In 2012," Imperial Irrigation District Government Affairs Officer, Patrick Swarthout said, "It cost our rate payers a million dollars to replace the electrical facilities that were damaged and or stolen."
East Valley farms have been hit with more than a million dollars in damages. Desert Sands Unified School District could hire five or six more teachers with the money it has had to spend replacing and repairing facilities damaged by metal theft.
"Even more challenging than the fiscal costs are the human costs," Desert Sands Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Gary Rutherford said. "We have students who are sitting in classrooms in triple digit heat who suddenly find themselves without air conditioning."
Even when police locate suspects with balled up copper wiring in their posession, they say it's tough to prove a case against them.
"It's hard to tie that back to a specific location," Indio Police Chief Richard Twiss said. "Unless we're able to catch them in the act."
To assist law enforcement in deterring metal theft, state assemblyman Brian Nestande is introducing a bill in the state senate to add a one percent tax on metal materials brought in to recycling centers.
The 1% assessment would be deducted from the payments scrap metal recyclers pay to the seller. For example, if an individual brought in metal materials to be recycled and received $100 from the recycling center, $1 would be directed to the Department of Justice to fund anti-theft grants, and the individual would receive $99 in compensation for their materials.
The grants would be available to regional and local law enforcement so they can dedicate more resources to metal theft.
"By having this approach," Nestande said, "I think law enforcement will have the tools then to investigate and prosecute these crimes."
Early this month, three east valley recycling centers were caught in a sting operation by the sheriff's department with stolen materials. The Riverside County District Attorney says he expects to bring charges in the case later this week.
"We have certain recyclers that don't follow the rules," Paul Zellerbach said. "They knowingly accept stolen property and recycle it and gain the value or the benefit from that."
Metal theft is at an all time high in the Coachella Valley. If Nestande's bill passes and funding becomes available, law enforcement officers say they'll have the resources to work together to reduce metal theft.
"I think once the focus is placed on that area, and it's a valley wide focus under one umbrella of a task force," Indio Police Chief Twiss said, "You'll see that those crimes will start to diminish."