New copper theft foil: Bust the drivers

Copper prices rise, copper thievery goes on upswing

DOE's prevention systems
With news today that copper prices are on the rise again - up 7% to $3.45 a pound, in over a month - law enforcement officials are looking for new ways to put a crimp in copper and metal thefts that continue to plague almost every community in the US.

Clearwater, Florida police this week announced one new plan that targets any vehicles carrying large loads of metal.  Called operation "Cold Steal," police say they will require the person in possession of the metal must be able to account for where they got it. If they can't, they could be subject to arrest and the property seized.

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"If you're toting a large load of metal or air conditioning parts in your vehicle and you're headed to a recycling center, you better be able to tell us how you got it and from where. We see too many people who cannot account for their metal cargo and that is no longer an acceptable excuse," said Clearwater Police Chief Anthony Holloway in a release. In Clearwater, metal and air conditioner condenser thefts continue to rise, with 145 reported cases so far this year. This amounts to a 254% increase in metal thefts from 2010 and a 480% increase from 2009.

Florida authorities have also taken to jailing are jailing unlicensed scrap-yard dealers in an attempt to curb metal theft.  According to the the number of registered scrap-yard dealers in Broward and Palm Beach counties has spiked 62% in three years, from 370 to the current 601, according to the state Department of Revenue.

But not everyone in Florida is happy to see the scrapyard crackdown, from the SunSentinel:  "It's definitely going to put people out of business, having to comply with all that kind of regulation," said Alan Covitz, who bought Powerline Scrap Metal in Pompano Beach 10 years ago. "They're putting all the burden on us. How much more can we do without having our industry grind to a halt?"

Other states are looking to make the theft of copper an offense that would guarantee prison time and restitution.  From Kentucky Representative Bill Farmer: "We've said that if the total value of the damage exceeds $1,500, then that becomes a class D felony punishable under the felony laws as opposed to a misdemeanor..."

The federal government even got in the copper protection game in September when the US Department of Energy and its Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced they had built a security system aimed at thwarting at least some of the copper thefts that plague utilities and other large facilities.

Specifically, "ORNL, DOE, the utility and several subcontractors installed a comprehensive perimeter security system consisting of energy efficient lighting, surveillance cameras that operate in a high voltage environment and an anti-cut, anti-climb fence system with integral intrusion detection cable. The complete system protects a perimeter area of 3600 linear feet."

Copper theft brazenness knows no bounds either.  According to a report in Tucson, one of the latest techniques thieves are using involves breaking open utility boxes, cutting the wires, tying the end to the back of a vehicle and then driving off, pulling sometimes hundreds of feet of wire from the conduit.

And it happens a lot: Copper thieves struck more than 200 times on East Valley [near Tucson] freeways alone during fiscal 2010-11, costing taxpayers more than $500,000 for repairs to put lights, information signs and traffic cameras back in service, according to statistics compiled by the Arizona Department of Transportation in response to a public-records request.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  and on Facebook

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