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Loss Control - Copper Theft

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Copper Theft

The copper theft issue: AT&T issued a recent guide to law enforcement and fire departments to assist them in catching copper cable thieves and identifying where the cable originated. In part, their guide says that copper cable theft is a crime with potentially devastating consequences in our communities. Any loss of communication can paralyze critical public health and emergency services and even threaten our national security. In addition, repairs can cost millions of dollars. The demand for copper in many of the world’s developing nations has caused the price to soar to $3 a pound.

An increase in copper theft: With the rising price and the high demand of copper, insurers and law enforcement see an increase of copper thefts. A recent NICB ForeWarn Alert states that thieves target copper wire, pipe, fittings and other components such as residential air condition units or power stations containing copper. In addition, law enforcement is seeing a trend in thefts targeting catalytic converters from both junkyards and by cutting them from underneath vehicles.

Law enforcement works to stop thefts: Various law enforcement studies are uncovering interesting statistics regarding copper theft. In parts of Texas, 40% of copper thefts occurred in homes under construction. Other thefts took place at plumbing and construction companies, hardware stores, and from delivery trucks. Of the thefts taking place at homes under construction there was evidence of forced entry in only 10% of the incidents. In 90% of the incidents, copper materials were staged or left in homes in the framing stage of construction, or left unlocked. All thefts from these homes occurred overnight.

The city of Lewiston, Maine has had some success in dissuading these types of crimes by maintaining a list of all known scrap metal thieves. The authorities conduct weekly checks with the major scrap dealers and compare sales information with their known offender list. If a known offender was found to have a large number of transactions at a scrap yard, the suspect is brought in for questioning.

One law enforcement agency indicated the only common factor they found amidst the myriad of offenders was they did not limit themselves to one type of theft. They found that any one offender would steal wire, pipe, exhaust systems, refrigerator radiators, etc.

Nothing is sacred to a thief. A church bell from the 1600’s was stolen from a church near Santa Rosa, CA. The church had 7 bells, each named after a different Queen. The one stolen was solid brass. A city park near Salt Lake City recently had all the copper couplings stolen from the public restroom toilets.

Brass and steel also a problem: While copper is certainly a primary target, brass and steel thefts are also on the rise. Spring and summer are the busiest times for these thefts. The increase seems to be tied to the busiest construction seasons. It is not unheard of for crimes to take place during business hours. In some instances, the thieves simply drove into a neighborhood, loaded their trucks with copper, brass or steel and drove away attracting no attention due to the level of activity at the site.

We encourage you to evaluate the status of your company’s risk management programs and policies and make enhancements where needed. Your efforts will go a long way towards minimizing your company’s exposure to copper theft and help control insurance costs.

What can you do to avoid being a target of copper theft?

  • As part of your hiring practice, consider doing a criminal background check on all applicants. This may give you additional insight into a prospective employee.
  • Avoid storing copper wire, pipe, fittings and other components at remote jobsites. Even securing a parts trailer with a lock is not a deterrent to motivated thieves.
  • Look at the security of your premises. Consider installing a security system that includes motion detectors and cameras. Although the initial cost may seem high, it can pay for itself if it eliminates one theft loss. Keep in mind a thief might enter your premises with the intention of stealing copper but may find other objects to take.
  • If your business is to install copper wire, consider pre-cutting the wire and delivering what you need at a jobsite on a daily basis. This will avoid large quantities sitting at a job waiting to be used.
  • 90% of all theft takes place on weekends so have someone check the jobsite several times during the weekend. Provide sufficient lighting at night as a potential deterrent.
  • Thefts often occur during the pre-drywall installation phase of construction. Consider this when planning a job. If possible, install copper at the end of the job.
  • Build partnerships with local scrap companies in the area. Many recycling centers will not accept copper that has been painted.
  • Inform law enforcement about construction sites and provide after hour and emergency contact information.
  • If you sustain a loss, consider the following steps in your investigation:
    1. Take Pictures.
    2. Protect the crime scene.
    3. Preserve the evidence.
    4. Talk with people who may have witnessed the crime.
    5. Identify the cable markings. They reveal the cable’s original location and can assist in identifying the suspect or provide an affirmative lead.

*This information is intended as a guideline to be used in conjunction with other loss control resources. It does not represent legal advice and does not amend the terms, conditions or coverage of your insurance policy. This information has been obtained from resources believed to be reliable, but Westfield Insurance cannot guarantee its reliability and does not assume liability for the information or suggestions presented.

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