I recently reposted an article from The Texas Tribune about Texas House Bill 544, which if passed would alter the laws on copper theft so that the theft of a de minimus amount (such as the amount of copper found in a penny) would not lead to a state jail felony conviction. In order to put the issue of copper theft in perspective (and explain why such a severe law was passed in 2011) I'm reprinting an article about copper theft presenting a significant business risk. This article appeared on the Prism Risk Management Blog back in September:
Copper Theft Presents Significant Risks to Businesses
Theft of copper and other metals has long plagued businesses and homeowners, and the problem has gotten worse in recent years. The price of copper has significantly increased over the past decade, making it a tempting target for thieves. Copper thieves can cause extensive damage in the act of extracting copper wiring or piping, often vastly greater than the value of the copper itself. New state laws and city ordinances attempt to prevent any benefits that may come from copper theft, and businesses and homeowners can take steps to protect themselves from the most egregious acts of theft.
A Growing Problem
Thieves usually steal copper and other metals in order to sell it to scrap metal dealers or recyclers. Copper is frequently visible and relatively easy to steal. According to the enterprise security industry journal Security, the price of copper nearly doubled between 2005 and 2008. Many law enforcement officials, according to Security, claim that methamphetamine addicts account for a large number of copper thefts around the country. It has become a major liability for many businesses, costing them millions of dollars per year in both losses of material and the cost of repairing damage caused by thieves. Theft of copper wiring may also pose a risk to public safety. The FBI reported that residents of Jackson, Mississippi did not receive adequate warning of oncoming tornadoes in April 2008 because thieves had recently stripped copper wire from five of the town’s tornado warning sirens.
In the Austin, Texas area, thieves have stolen copper wire from commercial air conditioning units. A single A/C unit can reportedly yield $50-100 worth of copper, while its removal can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Austin police arrested a man earlier this year for stealing copper tubing from several restaurants. Thieves have even stolen submersible pump wires from homes along Lake Travis, an act that requires the thieves to approach by boat.
Preventing and Deterring Copper Theft
State lawmakers in Texas passed a law in 2011 that makes any theft of copper a state jail felony. An ordinance passed by the Austin City Council in 2010 requires recyclers to have a license from the city and to keep records of their transactions. It also prohibits temporary recycling locations in an attempt to deprive copper thieves of a market.
Businesses and homeowners can protect themselves from many acts of theft with some precautions. Security recommends that businesses and utilities that use copper supplies, such as construction firms, carefully schedule deliveries of copper materials as close as possible to the time they are needed. This would prevent a build-up of surplus copper at a work site. For property and business owners, concealing copper wiring and tubing may deter many would-be thieves.
Some electric utilities and businesses are using new technologies to assist in the identification and recovery of copper. An electric cooperative in east Texas started using “Data-Dots,” a form of nanotechnology sprayed onto copper wiring. Each “dot” contains information about the wiring’s rightful owner and location, and is visible under black light. Notices posted in areas where copper wiring and tubing has Data-Dot protection will hopefully deter thieves.