Copper Theft...

Copper Theft a Growing Problem


Theft of all types of copper tubing and wiring is an alarming development. Over the past two years, law enforcement agencies and utility companies have seen a dramatic rise in the theft of copper wiring, water piping and refrigeration copper tubing from homes, businesses and utility facilities. Often, the destruction does $3,000 in damages for $25 worth of scrap copper.

This rise is alarming but not unexpected; thefts of recyclable metals spike whenever scrap metal prices rise. And with the market value of copper increasing as much as 400% since 2000, the metal has become more attractive to thieves looking for an easy source of cash. Unscrupulous salvage yards readily accept copper, often paying up to 90% of market price. Thieves, (typically drug addicts looking for quick-buy money), look for copper in many forms and places:

o New wiring, piping, and other components awaiting installation, stored at construction sites.

o Wiring (even high-voltage wiring), piping, and electrical components in unsecured buildings (whether under construction, vacant, or occupied), electrical facilities, streetlamps, traffic signals, etc.

o Gutters, downspouts, lightning conductors and other roof components.

o Copper coils in air conditioners and HVAC units.

o  Outdoor sculptures or decorative architectural components.

What Home Owners can do to Fight Copper Theft

o  Greenville residents and businesses can assist police in thwarting these crimes by reporting any suspicious activities near light poles, buildings under construction and any air conditioning units.

o  Be on the lookout for suspicious burning in the area. Thieves will typically burn the coating off of electrical wiring before attempting to sell it. Smoke from this type of fire will be dark and oily looking and is usually done inside a metal drum. If you see any suspicious activity, please call 9-1-1 for the Hubbard Twp Police Department.

o   Work with police and neighbors to establish a neighborhood watch program.

o   Shoot 'Hilti nails through the base pan of your air conditioning condensing unit into the concrete pad it sits on so that when they try to steal it they'll have to drag off the 500-pound pad as well. (Hilti makes a concrete-piercing, steel-pin-firing gun that uses a .22-caliber cartridge to attach 2-by-4-inch wall plates to new concrete.)

o  Install a steel cage to cover your air conditioning unit, or locate it within a secure fence.

o  Secure any access to your home's crawl space. Thieves are known to get under your home and completely strip all of the exposed wiring and copper pipes located there.

What Building Contractors can do

o   Seek Information and Assistance

o  Consult your insurance agent or loss control consultant before your project begins, to ensure that you have adequate, appropriate insurance to protect copper during transportation, storage, and installation, and to cover business interruption costs should a theft shut down your operation temporarily.

o  Meet with local law enforcement early in the project, to familiarize them with your plans, materials, risks, and schedules, and to seek their guidance on local risks.

o  Talk with employees about theft, and show them how to secure materials and equipment to prevent theft and vandalism.

o  Get to know your neighbors, tenants, and vendors; ask them to alert police if they see suspicious activities or people on or near your site, especially after hours.

o Manage Valuable Materials Wisely

o   Arrange “just-in-time” delivery of costly commodities such as copper. When possible, avoid storing large quantities of valuable materials on site.

o  If you must purchase large quantities of copper components in order to “lock in” prices, be sure to have secure storage, either on or off site. Use sturdy, lockable buildings, storage containers, or wire cages.

o  Develop and use an effective inventory system to identify, measure, and track copper components. Mark copper materials as your property, using any of several new technologies available for this purpose. Record serial numbers of appliances and equipment that contain copper components.

o Keep Your Property Secure

o   Provide adequate exterior lighting and video surveillance cameras, especially in high-risk areas. Maintain these properly to ensure that they are always in working order.

o  Clearly define the perimeters of your property (such as with chain-link fencing), and post prominent “No Trespassing” signs. This makes it easier for police to identify, challenge, and arrest trespassers.

o  Hire security staff to monitor your property after hours. Schedule inspection rounds at irregular intervals so that thieves cannot anticipate vulnerable times.

o  Choose the best quality doors, fences, storage containers, and locks, and maintain them properly.

o  Install locking steel cages over HVAC equipment (such as air conditioning units) and other outdoor equipment that contains copper components. Install locks on exterior electrical panels.

o  Remove exterior fixed ladders, stairs, and other means of access. (Do not remove fire escapes.) Store ladders inside locked buildings.

o   Allow only authorized personnel on site. Train employees not to admit any others.