Businesses and municipalities across the United States have increasingly become targets for copper theft. Stealing copper wire and pipes have grown to epidemic proportions, with sharp increases in thefts from businesses, telephone companies, power companies, railroads and many others within the past decade.
The dramatic rise in copper theft has a simple explanation: economic motivation on the part of criminals and organized gangs. Scrap copper prices have increased more than 500% since 2002. Add to this the ease with which scrap metals can be converted to ready cash (via scrap yards and metal re-cyclers), and the reasons behind the dramatic rise in copper thefts becomes clear.
And it’s not just copper that has become a favorite target of criminals: thefts of aluminum and bronze materials are also occurring at unprecedented levels.
What they are stealing, and why.
Across the U.S., copper wire and copper pipes have become favorite targets of thieves. They typically go on the hunt during non-business hours, weekends and holidays to strip these metal assets from buildings, infrastructure installations and stockyards, often causing extreme collateral damage to facilities and businesses in the process.
Thefts include electrical wiring from power companies and telephone company plants, grounding bars from railway installations, copper piping and wiring in buildings, and raw materials from stockyards and storage facilities. Air conditioning units, plumbing and electrical systems are all vulnerable to the significant rise in copper theft.
Again, the motivation for these thefts is simple: valuable metal commodities are easily converted to cash, and too often these installations are unprotected by security systems and other deterrents to theft.
A growing problem that is gaining local and national visibility.
In Georgia, as in other states, copper theft has reached such a high level that a special task force has been created to fight it. The Metro Atlanta Copper Task Force, led by the Atlanta Police Department, involves police and re-cyclers from surrounding metro areas, Georgia Power, and the Fulton County DA’s office.
Many other states have passed or are drafting legislation to fight the problem. A 2007 Georgia law makes it a crime to knowingly purchase stolen metal. It allows prosecution to recover the actual cost of returning property to original conditions, as many copper thefts negatively impact the surrounding property value.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries is actively promoting educational efforts throughout the country, providing members and community leaders with resources to help combat copper theft and related crimes. Teaming with law enforcement and crime prevention organizations to fight and solve this problem, they have established a theft alert system that these groups can use. Their guidelines include tips for how to fight and prevent metal theft, including requiring photo ID and license plate information for every transaction, training employees on identifying stolen goods, and keeping good records that might be useful later.
What you can do to protect your copper assets.
The installation of adequate burglar alarm, access control and video surveillance systems -- providing coverage for all areas of your facilities where copper is present -- is your first line of defense against copper theft. While burglar alarm and access control systems help alert you to unauthorized entry, video surveillance systems help provide video evidence if a break-in occurs.
Tyco Integrated Security provides the solutions businesses, municipalities and public agencies need to protect their copper assets, such as security systems, inventory management solutions and more – along with other specialized solutions to help protect the copper assets within their facilities.
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