Near-record prices for copper, platinum, aluminum, and other metals are prompting a resurgence in the theft of common items that in better times might be overlooked, says the New York Times. Among them are catalytic converters from automobiles and copper wiring stripped out of overhead power lines, tornado warning sirens, coal mines, and foreclosed homes, where thieves sometimes tear down walls to get to copper pipes and wiring. Thieves make quick money by selling the items to scrap yards.
The thefts are difficult to stop by overmatched law enforcement agencies and have been a costly nuisance to public utilities, which must spend millions of dollars on repairs and security. Thieves have electrocuted themselves and caused electrical and telephone failures and street light blackouts. Municipalities hit by budget deficits cannot afford repairs. Some state highways have been dark for months. In California, Little League baseball fields have gone dark because wiring was stolen from lights. “We believe this is a national security issue,” said Bryan Jacobs of the Coalition Against Copper Theft, an advocacy group in Washington that includes telecommunications firms, power companies, and railroads. “The only thing keeping it from being an epidemic is that scrap yards are now scrutinizing the material. But theft is still rampant.”