Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
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BOGALUSA, La. -- The city of Bogalusa has created a new law in response to an increase in water and copper thefts.

Council members voted Tuesday to establish utility service theft as a crime, with a punishment.

The move was made a year after the city started charging for water use. During that year, people who didn't pay their water bills ended up locked out of the water system. On Thursday, there were 150 locks on water meters across the city.

But Mayor Charles Mizell said not everyone has adapted well to the change.

'As we moved forward with the metering and the locks, we had individuals who would cut the locks and use the water and we had no punishment, no penalty phase for this,' he said.

That kind of damage to the water meters is costing the city, at minimum, $400 to repair. Public Works employees say they're finding at least one broken lock a month at this point. The only punishment before this new law was a criminal damage citation.

'It also includes electricity, gas, all utilities. We now have a method by which we can impose a penalty for violators,' said Mizell.

Water isn't the only utility being targeted. Police say copper thefts are picking up too.

The new punishments for utility services thefts include a fine between $100 and $500, as well as possible jail time.

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