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
Scrap Metal
Scrap Metal were a band from Broome, Western Australia who played rock music with elements of country and reggae. The members had Aboriginal, Irish, Filipino, French, Chinese, Scottish, Indonesian and Japanese heritage. The band toured nationally as part of the Bran Nue Dae musical and with...

 rise. In recent years, prices for metals have risen dramatically due to rapid industrialization in India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

. The metals most commonly stolen are copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

, aluminium
Aluminium or aluminum is a silvery white member of the boron group of chemical elements. It has the symbol Al, and its atomic number is 13. It is not soluble in water under normal circumstances....

, brass
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc; the proportions of zinc and copper can be varied to create a range of brasses with varying properties.In comparison, bronze is principally an alloy of copper and tin...

, and bronze
Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive. It is hard and brittle, and it was particularly significant in antiquity, so much so that the Bronze Age was named after the metal...


Other researchers have defined metal theft more specifically as "the theft of items for the value of their constituent metals." 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. Some elected officials and law enforcement officials
The police is a personification of the state designated to put in practice the enforced law, protect property and reduce civil disorder in civilian matters. Their powers include the legitimized use of force...

  have concluded that many metal thefts are by drug addicts stealing metal in order to fund their addictions. Some officials believe that most of these drug-related metal thefts are caused by methamphetamine
Methamphetamine is a psychostimulant of the phenethylamine and amphetamine class of psychoactive drugs...

 users, however, this varies by the location the metal is being stolen. Regardless of the reason, developing nations such as China, India, and South Korea are ever-fueling the demand for it.

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. In fact, it is possible that thefts may actually increase to compensate for the loss in value.

South Africa

Metal theft in South Africa is rampant, with an estimated of R
South African rand
The rand is the currency of South Africa. It takes its name from the Witwatersrand , the ridge upon which Johannesburg is built and where most of South Africa's gold deposits were found. The rand has the symbol "R" and is subdivided into 100 cents, symbol "c"...

5 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
Eskom is a South African electricity public utility, established in 1923 as the Electricity Supply Commission by the government of South Africa in terms of the Electricity Act . It was also known by its Afrikaans name Elektrisiteitsvoorsieningskommissie . The two acronyms were combined in 1986 and...

 and the telecommunication services by Telkom. Eskom estimated that the theft has costed the company about R
South African rand
The rand is the currency of South Africa. It takes its name from the Witwatersrand , the ridge upon which Johannesburg is built and where most of South Africa's gold deposits were found. The rand has the symbol "R" and is subdivided into 100 cents, symbol "c"...

25 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 R
South African rand
The rand is the currency of South Africa. It takes its name from the Witwatersrand , the ridge upon which Johannesburg is built and where most of South Africa's gold deposits were found. The rand has the symbol "R" and is subdivided into 100 cents, symbol "c"...

863 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).

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


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.


From July to September 2005, a gang of thieves in Brunei
Brunei , officially the State of Brunei Darussalam or the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace , is a sovereign state located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia...

 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
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

, during May 2006, thieves stole sections of copper roofing, gutters and wiring from four Quebec city
Quebec City
Quebec , also Québec, Quebec City or Québec City is the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec and is located within the Capitale-Nationale region. It is the second most populous city in Quebec after Montreal, which is about to the southwest...

 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.

In October 2010, a 400 pound bronze bell was stolen in Shelburne County, Nova Scotia
Shelburne County, Nova Scotia
Shelburne County is a county in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.-History:Shelburne County was founded in 1784 shortly following the influx of Loyalist settlers evacuated from the newly independent United States of America...

. Thieves removed the bell from a monument in Roseway Cemetery. 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.

Czech Republic

327 bronze markers stolen from Theresienstadt concentration camp
Theresienstadt concentration camp
Theresienstadt concentration camp was a Nazi German ghetto during World War II. It was established by the Gestapo in the fortress and garrison city of Terezín , located in what is now the Czech Republic.-History:The fortress of Terezín was constructed between the years 1780 and 1790 by the orders...

 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.


In February 2006, near the German city of Weimar
Weimar is a city in Germany famous for its cultural heritage. It is located in the federal state of Thuringia , north of the Thüringer Wald, east of Erfurt, and southwest of Halle and Leipzig. Its current population is approximately 65,000. The oldest record of the city dates from the year 899...

, thieves dismantled and carted away some 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) of disused rail track, causing at least 200,000 euros worth of damage.


In Haiti
Haiti , officially the Republic of Haiti , is a Caribbean country. It occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Ayiti was the indigenous Taíno or Amerindian name for the island...

, after the 2010 Haiti earthquake
2010 Haiti earthquake
The 2010 Haiti earthquake was a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake, with an epicentre near the town of Léogâne, approximately west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital. The earthquake occurred at 16:53 local time on Tuesday, 12 January 2010.By 24 January, at least 52 aftershocks...

, some looters were reported to be removing rebar
A rebar , also known as reinforcing steel, reinforcement steel, rerod, or a deformed bar, is a common steel bar, and is commonly used as a tensioning device in reinforced concrete and reinforced masonry structures holding the concrete in compression...

 from the concrete of collapsed buildings in order to sell it. Others hacked up downed power lines.


In Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, there were 5,700 metal theft reported cases in 2007 in locations as far apart as Shizuoka
Shizuoka Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located in the Chūbu region on Honshu island. The capital is the city of Shizuoka.- History :Shizuoka prefecture was formed from the former Tōtōmi, Suruga and Izu provinces.The area was the home of the first Tokugawa Shogun...

, Hiroshima
Hiroshima Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located in the Chūgoku region on Honshu island. The capital is the city of Hiroshima.- History :The area around Hiroshima was formerly divided into Bingo Province and Aki Province. This location has been a center of trade and culture since the beginning of Japan's recorded...

 and Okinawa
Okinawa Prefecture
is one of Japan's southern prefectures. It consists of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over long, which extends southwest from Kyūshū to Taiwan. Okinawa's capital, Naha, is located in the southern part of Okinawa Island...



On the 11th of January, 2011 an ICE train derailed near the Dutch city of Zevenaar
Zevenaar is a municipality and a city in the eastern Netherlands, near the border with Germany.- Population centres :*Angerlo*Babberich*Giesbeek*Lathum*Ooy*Oud Zevenaar*Zevenaar...

. The cause of the accident was the theft of 300 meters of copper cable. Nobody was harmed.


In 2001, thieves in Khabarovsk Krai
Khabarovsk Krai
Khabarovsk Krai is a federal subject of Russia , located in the Russian Far East. It lies mostly in the basin of the lower Amur River, but also occupies a vast mountainous area along the coastline of the Sea of Okhotsk, an arm of the Pacific Ocean. The administrative center of the krai is the...

 stole electric and telephone lines leading to military bases there. A small bridge was stolen in Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 in 2007, when a man chopped up its 5-meter span and hauled it away.


In Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

, 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. In September 2009, smugglers attempted to make off with 25 tons of radioactive scrap metal from the Chernobyl
Chernobyl disaster
The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine , which was under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities in Moscow...

 Exclusion Zone. The Security Service of Ukraine caught them.

United Kingdom

Significant rises in metal theft were observed during 2006-2007 in the UK, especially in North West England
North West England
North West England, informally known as The North West, is one of the nine official regions of England.North West England had a 2006 estimated population of 6,853,201 the third most populated region after London and the South East...

, where metal theft is still on the rise as of 2008. 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.

In the UK, the British Metals Recycling Association 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
Steve Ovett
Stephen Michael James "Steve" Ovett OBE , is a former middle distance runner from England. He was gold medalist in the 800 metres at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, U.S.S.R., and set world records for 1500 metres and the mile run...

 disappeared from Preston Park
Preston Park, Brighton
Preston Park is a park near Preston Village in the city of Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, England. It is located in Preston Park ward to the north of the centre of Brighton, and served by the nearby Preston Park railway station....

 in Brighton and church bells in Devon were stolen by thieves. A statue made by Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Henry Spencer Moore OM CH FBA was an English sculptor and artist. He was best known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures which are located around the world as public works of art....

 was stolen from a museum in 2006 and believed to have been melted down for scrap. Churches, especially older churches, suffer as 'lead
Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

 theft' from church (and other) roofs is on the rise, although some police do not take it seriously.
In late 2011 the police began a number of crackdowns on metal theft, the largest in South Yorkshire resulting in at least 22 arrests and the seizure of amateur smelting equipment.

United States

Cities across the United States have become targets for metal thieves. Manhole cover theft
Manhole cover theft
Manhole cover theft is the phenomenon of manhole covers being stolen, usually for resale as scrap. Long considered to be a childish prank or simple vandalism, this type of theft is often expensive to municipalities, and dangerous to their residents. In recent years, the theft of manholes for...

s have increased dramatically between 2007 and 2008, with Philadelphia as one of the hardest hit targets. Other cities dealing with this trend include Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

, Greensboro, NC, and Long Beach, CA.

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. 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
Tacoma, Washington
Tacoma is a mid-sized urban port city and the county seat of Pierce County, Washington, United States. The city is on Washington's Puget Sound, southwest of Seattle, northeast of the state capital, Olympia, and northwest of Mount Rainier National Park. The population was 198,397, according to...

, which was later recovered.

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
Atlanta Police Department
The Atlanta Police Department is the law enforcement agency of the city of Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.The city shifted from its rural-based Marshal and Deputy Marshal model at the end of the 19th century. In 1873, the department was formed with 26 officers...

 and involves police and recyclers from surrounding metro areas, Georgia Power
Georgia Power
Georgia Power is an electric utility headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. It is the largest of the four electric utilities that are owned and operated by Southern Company....

, and the Fulton County DA’s office.

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. 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. 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.

The International Association of Property Crime Investigators
International Association of Property Crime Investigators
The International Association of Property Crime Investigators was founded in Orlando in 2000 as the National Association of Property Recovery 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
Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries is a private, non-profit trade association representing nearly 1,500 private and public for-profit companies – ranging from small, family-owned businesses to multi-national corporations -- operating at more than 6,000 facilities in the United States and...

 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. They have also teamed with the National Crime Prevention Council
National Crime Prevention Council
The National Crime Prevention Council is an American educational nonprofit organization in Washington, DC whose mission is to enable people to create safer and more caring communities by addressing the causes of crime and violence and reducing the opportunities for crime to occur.The NCPC is...

 (known for McGruff the Crime Dog
McGruff the Crime Dog
McGruff the Crime Dog is an anthropomorphic cartoon bloodhound created by Saatchi & Saatchi through the Ad Council for the National Crime Prevention Council for use by American police in building crime awareness among children. He debuted in July 1980. The character was created by John Young. The...

 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. 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.

In 2011, Officer Mandy Curfiss, a police officer on the reality television series Police Women of Cincinnati
Police Women of Cincinnati
Police Women of Cincinnati is the fifth season of Police Women on TLC. It follows four female members of the Cincinnati Police Department in Cincinnati, Ohio.-Cast:...

stated that theft of copper items for their copper content was common in Cincinnati.

External links

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