O'FALLON, Mo. (KMOV) -- What looks like an ordinary piece of plumbing has become a source of cash for criminals.
Thieves are hacking through copper pipes to steal backflow prevention devices from irrigation systems.
Homes and businesses with irrigation are required to have the device, which prevents tainted water from flowing back into the water supply.
Thieves use a hack saw or electric saw to cut through pipes and steal copper and brass.
O'Fallon, Missouri police say they've taken 16 reports in April. Police say 28 victims have reported similar thefts since the start of the year.
Often, thieves strike during the winter when irrigation systems have been turned off. At that point, it's easier to cut through the pipes. Most victims don't notice the theft until they attempt to restart their irrigation systems in the spring.
Special cages and locks can deter theft.
Police say neighbors should be on the lookout for anyone who appears to be inspecting the backflow devices, which are often connected to the side of a home.