Cop Of The Week

by Melissa Bailey | July 11, 2007 2:58 PM | | Comments (4)

IMG_9089.JPGCall him the “Copper Cop”: A knowledge of his home city, plus knowledge of Spanish, helped Officer Salvador Rodriguez find out who’s been stealing copper pipes from homes under construction in the Hill.

Rodriguez, who’s 43, has been a city cop for 13 years. He’d noticed the pattern before: With the price of copper shooting up over the last few years, vacant, under-construction and even occupied homes are easy targets for theft. In the Hill, copper pipes spell “quick cash for drug money,” said Rodriguez. Thieves need only walk them down to a scrap yard at the Ella Grasso Boulevard and Spring Street and make an easy buck.

That is, if no one catches them in the act.

Counting the Bounty Too Soon

Rodriguez got the call a couple months ago: A woman saw two men walking in the direction of the scrap yard, carrying a load of copper pipes. One wore jeans and a hard hat. The other was carrying a book bag and pushing along a bike. She thought they looked suspicious.

When the officer arrived at the scene in his squad car, he found the two men counting their loot. They had laid out the pipes on the ground, and were calculating their profits.

“When I pulled up on them, I called them over and asked for ID,” explained the officer, sitting at a large wooden table at the Hill Substation one recent afternoon. The man with the book bag said he didn’t have ID. The other man said in Spanish, “Your ID is in your book bag.”

Rodriguez, who grew up in Fair Haven and has Puerto Rican roots, wasn’t fooled: “I said to him in Spanish, ‘I know Spanish.’” He searched the guy’s book bag and found burglary tools, including a magnet.

The man with the hard hat, who’s 24, was carrying two crack pipes. Both were homeless, staying at different shelters in the city. One told the officer he had found the metal in a Dumpster.

Rodriguez retraced the men’s route, from Lamberton to Morris Street, looking for homes under construction. He soon found a site where the copper pipe was missing. The pipe had been in a soon-to-be-remodeled basement, testified a construction worker at a nearby home. Disguised by his hard hat, the alleged thief had slipped by undetected into the basement, where he had clipped a roll of copper pipe into pieces, stored them in the backpack, and slipped away.

Both alleged thieves were arrested.

Buckets O’ Loot

About a month later, a man from a paint store called police saying he’d seen two men sitting in a car, parked outside his shop. Inside the car were two buckets full of copper pipes and a drill. The men looked “suspicious,” and might be connected to a rash of car break-ins in the area, the caller said.

When the car took off, someone from the paint store followed it to the scrap yard.

At the scrap yard, Rodriguez found the suspects. One, a heavyset man with a severe limp, had a familiar face. The officer had seen him once before, passed out in a vehicle, with a wad of cash lying on the seat in plain view, and the windows down.

Where did you get the buckets? he asked the man. “We don’t know,” they told him, according to Rodriguez. The other man said he’d just picked him up at a methadone clinic.

Where did the pipes come from? No one claimed to know. Rodriguez started to trace back the route.

“I’ve been on [the force] 13 years. You start thinking how they think,” explained the officer. A Manhattan native and diehard Yankees fan, he grew up most of his life in Fair Haven, before moving as an adult to Fair Haven Heights. Knowing the city helps a lot, too, he said.

Rodriguez stopped by each business on the Boulevard and asked if any cars had been broken into. When he got to a plumbing store, the owner said yes — a contractor’s car. The description of lost items — including a brand-new drill — matched the stolen goods “to a T.”

The officer arrested the two men for burglary and trespassing. Thieves would have raked in $150 for the copper in those two buckets, reckoned Rodriguez. “If you’re a drug addict, that’s a home run.”

(To read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series, click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

(To suggest an officer to be featured, click here.)

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Posted by: Boyn | July 11, 2007 6:21 PM

Officer Rodriguez is a great guy. He worked for about 10 years in westville and everyone loved him. He is a good cop and a good perosn. Congrats to Sal.

Posted by: KAM B | July 11, 2007 6:22 PM

I know this officer and he's a fantastic officer. Keep up the good work Officer Rod.

Posted by: Lilliana R | July 11, 2007 8:48 PM

I know who you are:
you are a wonderful father
you are a great friend
you are a dedicated officer of the law
you are the best husdand a wife could have
you are my hero and I am proud of you
Love you wife

Posted by: AOC | July 11, 2007 10:14 PM

Sal has been solving crime's for over a decade now in the Elm City. Great people make great officers. Stay safe Sal, and keep up the good work.

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