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Metal, Materials, and Appliance Theft

Metal theft, especially copper theft, has risen significantly in the past few years due to record metal prices and an increase in vacant homes due to foreclosure.  To address this issue, the COPS Office hosted a conference call with members of the local and federal law enforcement community, as well as representatives from academia and private industry, to discuss recent trends in metal and related property theft.

Metal theft is a serious crime that is often related to other crimes like illicit drug activity, especially methamphetamine abuse.  This type of crime damages critical infrastructure, such as transportation and utilities, as thieves are stealing metal from railroads and electric substations.   Many municipalities are also suffering from a rash of manhole cover and streetlamp thefts.

During this call, participants offered a number of examples of successful partnerships between law enforcement officials and local scrap metal recyclers that significantly reduced metal theft in their areas. 

Success Stories from Local Law Enforcement

Cincinnati Police Department
Northside Cincinnati saw a 162% increase between 2006 and 2007 in metal theft.  In order to respond to this dramatic spike, the police department targeted an area that was hit especially hard by metal thieves and offered to help homeowners paint the copper piping in their homes.  Signs announcing that the copper at these locations had been marked were placed in the homes’ front windows.  After 5 months of monitoring, only 1 home (out of 97 that had been painted) suffered a home break-in and no copper was stolen.  For more information on this successful project, please see the Cincinnati Police Department’s PowerPoint presentation here.

Marion County, Florida Sheriff’s Department
When the shift in the housing market went sour, the Marion County Sheriff’s Department saw a change from construction theft to metal theft.  The Sheriff’s Department contacted area recyclers to form a partnership that resulted in 80 arrests and the recovery of 62 stolen vehicles.  This partnership is evidence of the effectiveness of law enforcement partnerships with private businesses.  To read an interview with the area recyclers involved in this project, please read this article in the COPS Office newsletter.

Metal Theft Alert System

Scrap Theft Alert
A new theft alert system from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Institutes will allow law enforcement officers to input information, including photos, of stolen material.  This information will automatically be sent to recyclers within 200 miles of the theft. 


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