It’s one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States—scrap metal theft—including copper, aluminum, nickel, stainless steel and scrap iron. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the cost of copper theft alone is about $1 billion a year.
In Davenport, Iowa, thieves recently stripped a cell tower of its copper ground wire and plates.
“Any location where metals are available and a theft may not be easily detected could be a target,” said officer Brent Biggs of the Davenport Police Department.
Briggs said the copper in old air conditioners is a hot item for scrap theft as are vacant homes where plumbing can be stripped. Even historical markers and cemetery plaques aren’t off limits.
In Illinois, after years of trying to figure out how to combat the problem, the state formally established a Recyclable Metals Task Force. Launched in January 2016, the task force plans to release its first formal report this fall.
One of the challenges is figuring out how to more accurately track metals theft.
“Often theft goes unreported for a number of reasons and in some cases may go unnoticed for a long period of time,” said Mark Carpenter of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). The ISRI started an online reporting site to help police and scrap recyclers. The site lists recent thefts and offers an alert system to help keep an eye out for stolen material.