Copper Theft in the News

Source:  Hans Klein of Historic West End for West End Security Patrol
The AJC has had a series of articles about copper theft.  Here are some pointers:

— Consider marking copper coils with spray paint. Thieves will be less likely to grab copper with an identifying mark.

— Add motion detectors light around air conditioning units. Many units are located behind buildings and homes, dark areas that make it easy for criminals to reach.

— If you have a home alarm system, consider purchasing a pressure gauge for the air conditioning system. These can quickly alert you when a line has been cut.

— Join a neighborhood watch program.

Join the West End Security Patrol.  To join WESP


More info:

— industry increased its reward from $500 to $3,000 for information leading to copper theft conviction

Those in the recycling business have stringent state laws to follow, such as requiring valid photo identification, which is then photocopied, said Rick Golsen, president of Atlanta Metal.

Copper tubing rarely has any type of marking on it, making it nearly impossible to know where it came from.  A can of spray paint is a cheap way to scare would-be copper thieves by simply painting a section of the metal with a bright color, he said.

“They won’t take those. In their minds, it’s marked,” Bulat said. “If we did receive any coils with spray paint, we’re gonna call police.”

South East Metal Task Force

Full Articles

AT&T offering reward to catch copper thieves

By Christopher Seward

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
6:58 p.m. Tuesday, July 26, 2011

AT&T, the target of more than 200 copper thefts since the beginning of the year, is intensifying efforts to catch the thieves responsible.

The telecommunications company said Tuesday it is still offering a reward of up to $3,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspects responsible for stealing wiring from its telephone poles.  Thieves, like recyclers, want to cash in on the rising demand for the metal in countries like China.

In the south Fulton city of Fairburn alone there have been 14 incidents of copper thefts from AT&T polls this year — six so far this month, spokeswoman Emily Edmonds said Tuesday.  In nearby Palmetto, copper thieves have struck poles eight times this year.

“These thieves are actually using deer stands or they’re backing up trucks to the poles to climb up to actually cut the copper cable, and it’s all AT&T poles,” said Edmonds, who would not put a dollar figure on the thefts or related damage.

“Our biggest concern is when these copper wires are cut, obviously the phones are down and emergency services can’t be reached,” the spokeswoman said. That means people dialing 911 on land lines won’t be able to get through.

There have been at least 32 incidents of copper thefts targeting AT&T poles in Atlanta so far this year, the majority in Fulton County.

Detective J. Cross of the Fulton County Police Department say thieves take the wires extending from pole to pole, roll it up and burn off the encasement so it can’t be traced. They then may sell it to a middleman at a discount, and the middleman may sell it to a recycler.

But AT&T isn’t the only target. Atlanta police reporting 150 copper theft incidents in June alone. Air conditioner units are a favorite target, especially at vacant and foreclosed homes, churches and businesses, such as shopping centers.

“We’ve arrested some folks in the past, and some of them are still incarcerated and others have gotten out,” Cross said. “It makes it hard to charge them a lot of time because its hard to prove the stuff they are taking in is stolen.”

Last month, another alleged member of a copper-stealing ring was arraigned before a U.S. magistrate judge in Atlanta on federal charges stemming from the theft of nearly a half-million dollars worth of wire from a Carrollton company.

Edmonds said AT&T’s problem is not only in Georgia, but across the country, and the company is offering rewards elsewhere.  Companies and their suppliers are trying to fight back.

Southwire, North America’s largest manufacturer of wire and cable, produces a laser-etched wire with a unique code that allows prosecutors to trace its origin. Other companies use paint.

Edmonds said a task force of representatives from law enforcement agencies, scrap/recycling companies, utility companies and railroads meets once a month to discuss trends and exchange information on thefts.

Georgia law also holds metal thieves accountable for the damage they cause. Sellers of metal must present valid identification, and that record must be kept by recyclers, who now can’t accept cash for certain kinds of copper.

AT&T urges anyone with information about the recent copper thefts to call 1-800-807-4205.

A/C copper thefts a hot crime

http://www.ajc.com/news/a-c-copper-thefts-983615.html
By Alexis Stevens

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
10:07 a.m. Wednesday, June 22, 2011

As if Georgia summer days weren’t already hot enough, some criminals are doing their part to make things even steamier. They’re breaking into air conditioning units with one goal: stealing the copper inside.

It’s not a new crime. But it’s one that doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon. Vacant houses, churches, schools,  businesses and apartment complexes have been recent targets in metro Atlanta. And only a handful of those responsible have gotten caught.

For about 30 minutes of work, often at night, criminals can pocket about $100 by selling the metal to recyclers, if they get a large enough unit. But once destroyed, that same unit could cost  $3,000 to replace.

“The money item is the copper,” Tom Mutz, service manager for Moncrief Heating and Air conditioning, told the AJC. “They strip it down and take off the outer metal casing and take out the metal coils and any line set they can get.”

Replacing the units can require extensive work inside a home, too, depending on the age of the home and the amount of damage done during the theft, Mutz said. The bigger the air conditioning unit, the more copper inside for thieves, making commercial units popular targets, Mutz said. Vacant properties or foreclosed homes are also popular targets, as well as churches, according to metro Atlanta police.

City of Atlanta police officers have responded to 150 incidents involving copper thefts just in the month of June, according to crime statistics obtained by the AJC. The crimes have prompted the police department to reach out to church leaders to discuss ways of preventing further thefts, Carlos Campos, spokesman for Atlanta police, said.

“Churches, particularly the smaller ones, make for opportunistic targets because they are generally occupied only on Sundays and Wednesday evenings,” Campos said.

The crimes have extended to the suburbs, too. Since May 1, Paulding County deputies have responded to 24 cases of air conditioning units being damaged or having parts stolen, Sgt. Brandon Gurley told the AJC.  Some police agencies have been able to catch the suspected criminals in the act.

Last week, Cobb County police arrested a 26-year-old man accused of stealing the air conditioning unit from a vacant house on his own street, according to the arrest warrant. Bradley Andrew Pearson, of Kennesaw, was charged with theft by taking and criminal damage after he was captured on video surveillance and by a witness pushing the unit to the front of a house with a set of hand trucks, police said.

This week, three people involved with a ring suspected in at least 30 copper crimes were arrested by DeKalb County police, and additional arrests are expected. Dozens of air conditioning units worth $200,000 were stolen in the North Indian Creek Drive area alone, Mekka Parish with DeKalb police said.

And earlier this month, Hall County deputies arrested two people suspected of stealing copper from air conditioning units on top of an elementary school, resulting in $75,000 to $100,000 worth of damage.

But the problem may be too big for law enforcement to handle alone, some recyclers say.

“It takes an effort between the victims, the police, the recyclers and the DA’s office,” said Joe Bulat with Schnitzer Southeast, an Atlanta-based recycling company. “Without one of those four entities, you can’t do anything with this crime.”

Bulat helped create a group several years ago that has grown into the Southeast Metal Task Force. Based in Atlanta, the group’s 1,000 members include police departments and metal companies from around the metro area. The group’s website lists alerts for metal thefts to keep police officers and recyclers on the lookout for criminals.

“I can’t stand these criminals,” Bulat said. “They give us all a bad name.”

Those in the recycling business have stringent state laws to follow, such as requiring valid photo identification, which is then photocopied, said Rick Golsen, president of Atlanta Metal.

“Everybody that we purchase from signs an affidavit,” said Golsen, who said recyclers must pay close attention to what is being brought in. “If it doesn’t look like scrap, it’s not scrap.”

But copper tubing rarely has any type of marking on it, making it nearly impossible to know where it came from, Bulat said. A can of spray paint is a cheap way to scare would-be copper thieves by simply painting a section of the metal with a bright color, he said.

“They won’t take those. In their minds, it’s marked,” Bulat said. “If we did receive any coils with spray paint, we’re gonna call police.”

Other solutions include adding motion lights around an air conditioning unit or a pressure switch, which can alert a home alarm system when a line is cut. Being aware of vacant homes in your neighborhood is also a good idea, experts said.

While copper theft crimes don’t show any signs of slowing down, many are hopeful that spreading the word will help fight the expensive — and hot — problem.

“If you want to go pick up cans, pick up cans,” Golsen said. “But don’t pick up someone else’s cans.”

How to avoid being a victim of copper theft

http://www.ajc.com/news/how-to-avoid-being-984263.html
By Alexis Stevens

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
9:57 a.m. Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The copper inside air conditioning units has become a hot target for thieves wanting to make a quick buck. Recycling the metal can yield between $50 to $100 for a criminal, but replacing the A/C unit can cost property owners thousands of dollars.

Here are some tips to avoid being a victim of copper theft:

— Add motion detectors light around air conditioning units. Many units are located behind buildings and homes, dark areas that make it easy for criminals to reach.

— Consider marking copper coils with spray paint. Thieves will be less likely to grab copper with an identifying mark, such as a phone number or street address.

— Padlocks and small fences can deter criminals, but store the keys or combination in a secure place that you’ll remember.

— If you have a home alarm system, consider purchasing a pressure gauge for the air conditioning system. These can quickly alert you when a line has been cut.

— Join a neighborhood watch program, or start one to educate others in the community. Take notice of vacant properties in your area.

Sources: Joe Bulat with the Southeast Metal Task Force, Tom Mutz with Moncrief Heating and Air Conditioning, and local law enforcement agencies

Companies strike at copper thieves

Origin of stolen metals difficult to determine

http://www.ajc.com/news/companies-strike-at-copper-997215.html
By Jeffry Scott and Ty Tagami

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
5:00 a.m. Wednesday, July 6, 2011

As copper thieves have grown bolder ­ with Atlanta police reporting 150 incidents in June alone ­ so have efforts to thwart the crime wave that has soared along with the price of the metal.

It’s difficult for investigators to pin down where stolen metal originated, so the cases are hard to prosecute. One filched air conditioning coil or spool of copper wire looks like any other.

Without positive identification by the victim, prosecutors can’t win. “They won’t even take it to court,” said Joe Bulat, co-chairman of the Southeast Metal Task Force, a clearinghouse for information on metal thefts.

A Carrollton-based company is using new technology to fight back. Southwire, North America’s largest manufacturer of wire and cable, has given prosecutors evidence they’ve used successfully in court: etching copper wire with a unique code, which for prosecutors is the equivalent of fingerprints on a crime weapon.Other companies are identifying their copper wiring through the use of paint, though that can be removed by solvent.

Since 2003, the price of copper has gone from around 70 cents to about $4 per pound. Theft of the metal has become a nuisance across metro Atlanta, especially as the recession has left a growing number of big buildings empty.

“It’s a pretty big problem,” said Patrick Laughlin, an Atlanta commercial real estate agent. He routinely sees buildings stripped of copper from conduits or air conditioning units.

A building Laughlin sold in November had suffered $125,000 in wiring theft before the sale, he said. Then, after the sale, the building was hit again. He said the loss the second time was $200,000.

In Lithonia, Laughlin said, someone swiped the copper wiring from a transformer and wrote on it: “Thanks for the copper.” The message was signed: “The A Team.”

When a Georgia Power technician came to fix the transformer, Laughlin asked him about copper theft. The technician responded with a laugh. “He said, ‘This is Tuesday and this is my sixth call this week.’”

Nationwide, utilities have been hardest hit by metal theft, losing about $1 billion a year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Last year, Georgia Power lost about $500,000 to wire theft, spokeswoman Carol Boatright said, and the number of thefts this year ­ about 70 ­ is on pace with last year.

Utilities are fighting back. In January, the industry increased its reward from $500 to $3,000 for information leading to copper theft conviction and pressed prosecutors to charge thieves with more serious crimes.

Two years ago utilities got the Georgia General Assembly to pass a law that holds metal thieves accountable for the damage they cause, meaning they may have stolen $100 worth of copper wire, but the cost to reinstall it could be in the tens of thousands. That makes for stiffer penalties.

Sellers of metal must present valid identification, and that record must be kept by recyclers. Yet tracking down copper thieves is still a challenge, said Tom Gillis, an investigator with the Avondale Estates Police Department.

In June someone cut piping from five air conditioning units at a Head Start school in Avondale Estates, disabling the units and spewing refrigerant into the air. “The kids were in there, and when they turned the units on that stuff started coming out,” Gillis said.

He said the school likely would have to replace the air conditioners, which were worth far more than the piping.
He added that it would take a lot of investigative work to catch the thieves.

“The problem is, the metals that they’re taking don’t have serial numbers and they’re not stamped with company names,” Gillis said, “so they’re easily fenceable.”

That’s where identifiable wire like Southwire’s new etched Proof Positive Copper comes in. Southwire stores purchase records for each foot sold and makes the information available online.  Southwire said its laser-etched wire costs more than regular wire but wouldn’t say how much more.
Georgia Power has tried Proof Positive, and Boatright said it’s assisted in some of the 25 theft cases this year that led to arrests.

It’s a sign of the times that the first time Georgia Power installed it at a substation, it was stolen within two weeks. But the wire was identified when the thief showed up at a local metal recycler. He was arrested two weeks later, then prosecuted and convicted.

Join the West End Security Patrol. To join WESP

 

Author: niaknowles

From Native New Yorker (Brooklyn) to Atlanta Realtor, with a love for architecture and design. Atlanta based Real Estate Consultant working to restore and sell Intown Homes; REO,South West (Westside,West End, Westview Communities 30310,30311,30314,30318 zip codes)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s