March 19 (UPI) -- Thieves have stolen the concertina wire laid last year to reinforce the border fence between San Ysidro, Calif., and Tijuana, Mexico, authorities said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the agency started using the wire to stop "increased border incursions" through gaps made by contractors who were replacing 14 miles of existing fence with steel bollards.
"Some concertina wire was stolen, but was later recovered by Mexican law enforcement partners and returned to the Border Patrol," said Ralph DeSio, public information officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in San Diego.
Thieves sold the wire to residents, who then used it to protect their homes, according to Marco Antonio Sotomayor, chief of public security in Tijuana.
Officials in the border city said police arrested 15 people for stealing the wire.
When sold to a recycling facility, the steel wire fetches between 4 and 7 pesos per kilogram -- about 15 to 35 cents.
Authorities in the United States and Mexico said they are working together to combat the wire theft. But while Mexican authorities said residents bought the stolen wire to improve security for their homes, the U.S. border agency said it could not confirm that concertina wire had been used for homes.
"San Diego Sector cannot confirm reports that the stolen material is being used to provide security around homes in Tijuana," DeSio told UPI via email.
In 2018, Tijuana was the world's most violent city, according to a report released last week by the Citizens' Council for Public Safety and Penal Justice, a Mexican nonprofit.
Authorities blame Tijuana's elevated homicide rate on a war between rival drug gangs battling over control of the city's illicit market in methamphetamines.
There were 2,640 homicides in Tijuana in 2018, according to official statistics. That's 138 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, or about four times Mexico's national homicide rate.