Copper theft, the growing epidemic



Theft of copper, which includes pipes, tubing and wiring, has been on the rise in recent years due to the increased value for scrap copper. Construction sites, abandoned buildings, and commercial heating and air conditioning units have been the biggest targets for the copper thief. More often than not, the damage caused obtaining the copper vastly exceeds the value of the copper, but this does not deter the thieves. There have been numerous reports of air conditioners, valued at over $3,000 completely destroyed for no more than $25 worth of copper. What drives the theft of copper is the reward for it at the other end.

The price of copper remains at near historic highs, and that means, so does the amount of copper getting stolen. Everything from telephone wire to plumbing is a target, and lawmakers in nearly half the states are considering legislation aimed at making it harder for thieves to sell the stolen metal.

This is quickly turning into a billion dollar a year industry due to its relatively low-risk high-reward pay off. The price of copper is nearly $3 a pound according to commodity pricing.  This growing epidemic has increased by almost 80 percent in the United States. According to the F.B.I, copper theft has become a growing threat to our infrastructure.

You might be wondering why this is turning into such a problem for law enforcement.  One factor is the supply, copper, is so readily available. If you stop and think about it copper is used quite a bit. New construction projects use copper a lot, and energy facilities have an abundance of copper in them. Another contributing factor that makes it hard for the police to track down, or catch the copper thief, is the difficulty in tracking it. When thieves steal a TV or other electronics there is usually a serial number that will allow for the stolen item to be tracked. Stolen goods such as electronics or jewelry are at times hard to get cash for, due to partnerships between law enforcement and pawn shops. When stolen goods such as these are pawned police will have the ability to track these items and if an arrest is made the stolen items can be used as evidence. With copper there is no serial number to track, copper is stolen and sold and then melted down there is no evidence of a crime.

Lawmakers across the country are proposing new legislation to combat copper theft, both at the state level and the federal level. The politicians and the police agree new laws could have an adverse effect on the scrap yard and the recycle industry, but they believe a balance must be struck to combat the damage copper theft is causing to the infrastructure and the millions of dollars it is causing the victims.

Written by Bill Magnuson, CCP SAFE