Metal theft

Metal theft

Metal theft is the theft of metal items on a very large scale. These thefts usually increase when worldwide prices for scrap metal rise. In recent years, prices for metals have risen dramatically due to rapid industrialization in India and China. The metals most commonly stolen are copper, aluminium, brass, and bronze.[1][2]

Other researchers have defined metal theft more specifically as "the theft of items for the value of their constituent metals."[3] The defining characteristic of metal theft (besides being limited to items containing or made entirely from metal) is the motivation for the theft. Whereas items are generally stolen for their intrinsic value (e.g., stealing an iPod for its value as an iPod), items stolen in metal theft are stolen for their more or less extrinsic value as raw material or commodities. Items stolen in metal theft are ultimately scrapped, or recycled, to provide material for making new products.


Motivations for theft

Scrap metal has drastically increased in price over recent years. In 2001, it sold for $77 a ton, increasing to $300/ton by 2004. In 2008, it hit nearly $500/ton.[4] Some elected officials and law enforcement officials have concluded that many metal thefts are by drug addicts stealing metal in order to fund their addictions.[5] Some officials believe that most of these drug-related metal thefts are caused by methamphetamine users, however, this varies by the location the metal is being stolen.[6] Regardless of the reason, developing nations such as China, India, and South Korea are ever-fueling the demand for it.[4]

In the fourth quarter of 2008, however, world market prices for metals like copper, aluminium, and platinum dropped steeply. Although there is anecdotal evidence that this price decrease has led to fewer metal thefts, strong empirical research on the exact nature of relationship between commodity prices and metal thefts is still lacking. Some have argued that the "genie is out of the bottle" now and drops in commodity prices will not result in corresponding drops in thefts.[7] In fact, it is possible that thefts may actually increase to compensate for the loss in value.

Metal theft by location

South Africa

Metal theft in South Africa is rampant, with an estimated of R5 billion per annum lost due to the theft. The stolen metal ranges from copper cables, piping, bolts to manhole covers. The theft continuously disrupts and degrades services, such as the power supply provided by Eskom and the telecommunication services by Telkom. Eskom estimated that the theft has costed the company about R25 million per annum, with incidents increasing from 446 incidents in 2005; 1,059 in 2007 and 1,914 in 2008. The theft has cost Telkom R863 million (April 2007 - January 2008 period). Despite the minimal copper reserve South Africa has, as much as 3000 tonnes of copper leave Cape Town harbour every month. Aside from the economic impact, the theft also impacted people's lives, this includes the death of six children due to theft of manhole covers (2004-2008 figures).[8][9][10]

The Non-Ferrous Crime Combatting Committee (NFCCC) has been formed specifically to combat this type of crime in the country.[11]


In Australia, copper wiring, believed to be stolen from a variety of locations including rail tracks, power stations and scrap metal depots, was destined for the Asian black market.[12]


From July to September 2005, a gang of thieves in Brunei dismantled and stole parts from more than 60 power substations in that country, including copper earthing cables and aluminum doors. It is apparently being sold as scrap metal. The thefts are ongoing.


In Quebec, during May 2006, thieves stole sections of copper roofing, gutters and wiring from four Quebec city churches, two being St. Charles de Limoilou and St. Francois d'Assise. The thieves were discovered in action on their third night, whereupon they fled. High copper prices are believed to be the reason for the thefts. Repairs were expected to cost more than $40,000.[13]

In October 2010, a 400 pound bronze bell was stolen in Shelburne County, Nova Scotia. Thieves removed the bell from a monument in Roseway Cemetery.[14] The bell was part of the Roseway United Memorial Church, built in 1912, until it was demolished in 1993. It was recovered in a Halifax-area scrapyard October 6.[15]

Czech Republic

327 bronze markers stolen from Theresienstadt concentration camp cemetery in mid-April 2008, with 700 more stolen the next week. A scrap metal dealer was arrested on April 18, 2008. He intended to melt them down for their copper.[16]


In February 2006, near the German city of Weimar, thieves dismantled and carted away some 5 kilometres (3 mi) of disused rail track, causing at least 200,000 euros worth of damage.[17]


In Haiti, after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, some looters were reported to be removing rebar from the concrete of collapsed buildings in order to sell it.[18] Others hacked up downed power lines.[19]


In Japan, there were 5,700 metal theft reported cases in 2007 in locations as far apart as Shizuoka, Hiroshima and Okinawa.[20][21]


On the 11th of January, 2011 an ICE train derailed near the Dutch city of Zevenaar. The cause of the accident was the theft of 300 meters of copper cable. Nobody was harmed.[22]


In 2001, thieves in Khabarovsk Krai stole electric and telephone lines leading to military bases there.[23] A small bridge was stolen in Russia in 2007, when a man chopped up its 5-meter span and hauled it away.[24][25]


In Ukraine, statues, wires, sewage hatches, and even a museum-exhibit steam locomotive have been stolen for sale as scrap. In February 2004, thieves in western Ukraine dismantled and stole an 11 m long, one-tonne steel bridge that spanned the river Svalyavka.[26] In September 2009, smugglers attempted to make off with 25 tons of radioactive scrap metal from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The Security Service of Ukraine caught them.[27]

United Kingdom

Significant rises in metal theft were observed during 2006-2007 in the UK,[28] especially in North West England, where metal theft is still on the rise as of 2008.[29] Police Review have said that metal theft is now the fastest growing crime in the UK (for 2008) with the annual damage to industry estimated at £360m.[30]

In the UK, the British Metals Recycling Association[31] is working with authorities such as the Association of Chief Police Officers and the British Transport Police to halt the problem of metal being stolen from its members' sites and to identify stolen materials.

Roofs, manhole covers, statues etc. have all been increasingly targeted recently due to the rising cost of metal. Most of the time metal is sold for scrap but occasionally used by the thieves themselves. There have been many stories of metal theft; a bronze statue of former Olympic champion Steve Ovett disappeared from Preston Park in Brighton[32] and church bells in Devon were stolen by thieves.[33] A statue made by Henry Moore was stolen from a museum in 2006 and believed to have been melted down for scrap.[34] Churches, especially older churches, suffer as 'lead theft' from church (and other) roofs is on the rise,[35] although some police do not take it seriously.[36]

United States

Cities across the United States have become targets for metal thieves. Manhole cover thefts have increased dramatically between 2007 and 2008, with Philadelphia as one of the hardest hit targets. Other cities dealing with this trend include Chicago, Greensboro, NC, and Long Beach, CA.[37]

Copper wire thefts are also becoming increasingly common in the U.S. With copper prices at $3.70 a pound as of June 2007, compared to $0.60 a pound in 2002, people are increasingly stealing copper wire from telephone and power company assets. Gangs have been created, a black market for copper wire has emerged, and men even have been killed in power plants while trying to obtain copper wire.[38] Other sources of stolen copper include railroad signal lines, grounding bars at electric substations, and even a 3000 pound bell stolen from a Buddhist temple in Tacoma, Washington, which was later recovered.[39]

For example, Georgia, like many other states, has seen enough copper crime that a special task force has been created to fight it. The Metro Atlanta Copper Task Force is led by the Atlanta Police Department and involves police and recyclers from surrounding metro areas, Georgia Power, and the Fulton County DA’s office.[40]

Many states around the nation have passed – or are exploring – legislation to combat the problem. A new Georgia law took effect in July 2007 making it a crime to knowingly buy stolen metal. It allows prosecutors to prosecute for the actual cost of returning property to original conditions, as many of these thefts dramatically hurt the surrounding property value.[41] All in all, there is a nationwide movement towards education and cooperation between local prosecutors, police departments, and scrap metal dealers about problems of and solutions for metal theft.

In response to the growing concerns and the lack of hard numbers on these crimes in Indianapolis, IN, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) and the University of Indianapolis Community Research Center (CRC) began in 2008 a collaborative effort to collect data on metal thefts.[3] The Indianapolis Metal Theft Project gathers and analyzes a wide variety of data to provide a clearer understanding of the incidence, types, costs, and impacts of metal theft in Indianapolis in order to inform and implement strategies to reduce these crimes and their impacts.

The Department of Justice's Office of Community-Oriented Policing and the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing published its 58th problem-solving guide in 2010 directed towards Theft of Scrap Metal. The author of the guide, Brandon Kooi, Ph.D., provides a review of the problem in the U.S. and internationally, followed by a number of suggested responses and what to consider in those responses.[42]

The International Association of Property Crime Investigators presents the annual National Metal Theft Investigation Seminar uniting law enforcement and corporate security to share, learn and network to combat metal theft.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries is one of the groups backing these educational efforts throughout the country. As the nation’s trade association for the scrap recycling industry, ISRI provides members and community leaders with resources that they can use when facing the issue.[43] They have also teamed with the National Crime Prevention Council (known for McGruff the Crime Dog and the “Take a Bite Out of Crime” slogan) in an effort to team with law enforcement and crime prevention organizations to fight and solve this problem, and have established a theft alert system that these groups can use.[4] ISRI and the National Crime Prevention Council offer a number of 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.[44]

In 2011, Officer Mandy Curfiss, a police officer on the reality television series Police Women of Cincinnati stated that theft of copper items for their copper content was common in Cincinnati.

See also


  1. ^ 2008 Metal Theft Investigations Seminar. International Association of Property Crime Investigators.
  2. ^ Schwartz, Emma (March 27, 2008). "Price Hikes Lead to Rash of Metal Thefts". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved August 6, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b "Indianapolis Metal Theft Project". Community Research Center, University of Indianapolis. 
  4. ^ a b c Newsweek: Manhole Covers Stolen for Scrap Metal | Newsweek Business (Page 1)
  5. ^ Berryhill And Galgiani Metal Theft Legislation Clears First Hurdle. March 29, 2007.
  6. ^ Steinhauer, Jennifer (31 July 2007). "Unusual Culprits Cripple Farms in California". The New York Times (BUTTONWILLOW, Calif.): p. 10. 
  7. ^ Copper Theft: The Metal Theft Epidemic, CSO Online (2/1/07)
  8. ^ Ndlovu, Sinegugu (2008-07-24). "Metal theft is crippling industry". Independent Online (South Africa). 
  9. ^ "DA: Cable theft needs urgent action". Independent Online (South Africa). 2008-07-31. 
  10. ^ "Cable theft costs Telkom R863m". Mail & Guardian. 2008-03-03. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Police bust copper theft racket". The Age. 2008-03-03. 
  13. ^ "Brazen thieves swipe copper from Que. churches". May 29, 2006. 
  14. ^ Woolvett, Amy (October 7, 2010). "Stolen church bell recovered in Halifax". Nova News Now. Retrieved 8 October 2010. 
  15. ^ "Church bell saved from scrapyard". October 7, 2010. Retrieved 8 October 2010. 
  16. ^ Patricia Treble (April 5, 2008). "Meltdown: metal prices spur thieves". Macleans Magazine: 35. 
  17. ^ "It's hard to keep track...". ABC Online. Feb 5, 2006. Retrieved 2010-04-19. 
  18. ^ Benson, Tedd (January 16. 2010). "Rebar!". New House Rules.!.html. Retrieved 23 January 2010. 
  19. ^ Leinwand, Donna (Jan 22, 2010). "Fine line between stealing, surviving in Haiti". USA TODAY. Retrieved 23 January 2010. 
  20. ^ "Metal theft up thanks to hot market prices". The Japan Times. 2007-02-28. Retrieved 2008-02-02. 
  21. ^ McCurry, Justin (2007-03-05). "Japanese metal stolen to 'feed China's Olympic boom'". London: The Guardian.,,2027043,00.html. Retrieved 2008-02-02. 
  22. ^ "Treinbotsing Zevenaar vermoedelijk door koperdiefstal" (in Dutch). 
  23. ^ "Russia: Metal thieves leave military bases without power. (Brief Article)". IPR Strategic Business Information Database. October, 2001. Retrieved 2009-09-27. [dead link]
  24. ^ Singer, Dick (August 28, 2007). "Honesty wins out when rediscovering stolen chairs". Archived from the original on Sep 29, 2007. 
  25. ^ "Russian police arrest man for stealing a bridge". Reuters (Moscow). Aug 31, 2007. 
  26. ^ Thieves steal bridge in Ukraine
  27. ^ "Theft Thwarted Of Radioactive Scrap Metal From Chornobyl". Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. September 17, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  28. ^ Milmo, Dan (2007-05-28). "Copper thieves cause havoc for commuters". London: The Guardian.,,2089645,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=11. Retrieved 2008-02-02. 
  29. ^ Aslet, Clive (2008-01-22). "Pillar boxes could be next to go missing". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-02-02. 
  30. ^ Edemariam, Aida (2008-06-25). "The Big Meltdown". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  31. ^ British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA)
  32. ^ Pilditch, David (September 5, 2007). "Who did a runner with Ovett's statue?". Daily Express. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  33. ^ "Church bells saved from scrapyard". BBC News. 22 October 2007. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  34. ^ Bowcott, Owen (25 January 2006). "As another bronze is stolen, police fear treasures are going for scrap". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  35. ^ "'Highest ever' lead theft levels threaten community churches". Christian Today. July 10, 2008. Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  36. ^ Stretch, Euan (2009-03-12). "Police officer ignores lead theft". Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  37. ^ Newsweek:Manhole Covers Stolen for Scrap Metal | Newsweek Business (Page 3)
  38. ^ Mitchell, Kay (August 31, 2009). "Salem man badly burned in attempted metal theft, police say". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  39. ^ "Bell heralds break in theft case". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. March 7, 2008. Retrieved 2010-07-05. 
  40. ^ Garner, Marcus K. (2008-08-03). "E. Atlanta church among sites stripped of copper". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 
  41. ^ EMCs Mark One Year of Tougher Copper Theft Law
  42. ^
  43. ^ Newsweek:Manhole Covers Stolen for Scrap Metal | Newsweek Business (Page 2)
  44. ^ Ferrous Infrastructure Theft on the Rise | Environmental Protection

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Theft — In criminal law, theft (also known as stealing or filching) is the illegal taking of another person s property without that person s freely given consent. As a term, it is used as shorthand for all major crimes against property, encompassing… …   Wikipedia

  • Metal — This article is about metallic materials. For other uses, see Metal (disambiguation). Some metal pieces Metals Alkali metals …   Wikipedia

  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots — Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots — Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots …   Википедия

  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots — Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots Éditeur Konami Développeur Kojima Productions Conc …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots — North American box art Developer(s) Kojima Productions P …   Wikipedia

  • Metal Health (song) — Metal Health Single by Quiet Riot from the album Metal Health Released …   Wikipedia

  • Metal-Munching Mice — Rocky and Bullwinkle story arc {{{image}}} Season 2 Story arc (#) 4 No. of segments 16 Air date (start) September 29, 1960 Air date (end) November 17, 1960 Pr …   Wikipedia

  • Metal Gear — This article is about the series. For the video game, see Metal Gear (video game). For other meanings and components of the series, see Metal Gear (disambiguation). Metal Gear The Metal Gear Solid logo used for The Twin Snakes, Sons of Liberty,… …   Wikipedia

  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater — North Amer …   Wikipedia