Copper theft is back in the headlines. On July 12, the City of Port Coquitlam in Metro Vancouver fired seven employees for allegedly stealing new copper pipes destined for public installations. The group sold them to a scrap metal dealer over the course of a decade for a total of $75,000 CDN, a fraction of their original value. This incident highlights the ups and downs of copper theft in recent years.
About 10 years ago, metal prices began to rise. By 2011, copper had skyrocketed from $1 USD to $4 USD per pound. Suddenly, copper thieves began targeting utilities, telecommunications sites, construction sites and office towers. The annual cost has been estimated at over $1 billion USD in the United States. Fifty states, along with the provinces of B.C., Alberta and Nova Scotia, responded with laws regulating the scrap metal industry. Many municipalities also passed bylaws to fight metal theft.
While utilities and businesses reported a sharp drop in copper theft after these laws passed, hard data on the effectiveness of metal theft legislation is not available. However, as copper prices dropped, hitting a low of $2 USD in 2016, thefts appeared to go down too. The National Insurance Crime Bureau reported a 60 per cent drop in insured metal thefts in 2016.
Nevertheless, the price of copper rebounded to $3.83 USD last year and despite tariff disputes, it now sits at $2.80 USD per pound. The copper theft problem has definitely not gone away. “Moles” ransacking copper trains in Chile’s desert grabbed the attention of the financial markets this week. Across the US, copper thefts continue to pop up in headlines:
- June 4, 2018 – Trafford, PA - Two men were burned stealing copper from a substation.
- June 22, 2018 – Oklahoma City – A man died while stealing copper from a light pole.
- February 20, 2018d – Norman, OK – Thieves ripped out two-and-a-half miles of wiring from street lights, the largest copper theft in the city’s history.
In Canada, B.C. Hydro continues to lose about $1 million CDN to copper theft each year. The City of Langley, also in Metro Vancouver, reports a renewed surge in wire theft. Other stories include
- December 20,2017 – Edmonton - EPCOR, an Alberta utility company, warns thieves are leaving live power boxes open.
- February 28, 2018 – Woodstock, NB - At least 500 lbs of copper stolen from New Brunswick motel
- February 22, 2018 – Vancouver - Transit Police ask public for help with two dozen trolley wire thefts costing up to Cdn$50,0000 to replace. One incident left live wires dangling low over a sidewalk.
- July 4, 2018 – Ottawa - Theft of copper cables shut down a commuter rail line.
So what can you do about copper theft on your properties? Here are some practical strategies:
1. Fence off areas with copper. Slowing down potential thieves with cut-resistant wiring buys police time to get there.
2. Install adequate lighting.
3. Add warning signs. Stealing live wires can be fatal.
4. Install a monitored security system. It takes time to steal large amounts of copper. A security provider can notify police immediately of a verified crime in progress and catch thieves red-handed.
5. Use event-triggered security cameras. Advanced video analytics technology is ideal for outdoor areas where copper is most commonly stored. Let the software monitor a wide area and raise the alarm whenever there is suspicious activity.
6. Hire security guards. On-site guards can complement a remote guarding system by securing fences and gates.
7. Paint copper pipes black. This low-tech solution can make the pipes look like cheap plastic tubing.
Contact us today about security solutions for protecting your valuable copper.
Culbert, Lori. Telus and B.C. Hydro praise new metal theft law, but industry still critical. Vancouver Sun, December 22, 2012.
5 Year Copper Prices and Price Charts. Investment Mine, July 16, 2018.
Fergusen, Dan. Wire theft on the rise again in Langley City. Langley Times, March 20, 21018
NICB reports steep drop in metal theft claims. National Insurance Crime Bureau, November 21, 2017.
Copper Theft. Westbend Mutual Insurance Company Culture of Safety.