Theft of copper is no minor crime

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Any casual reader of the Police Beat in this newspaper can recognize that theft of copper has become the most common of crimes. The metal’s value continues to climb; it is now worth $3.32 per pound. By comparison, recyclers pay only about 40 cents per pound for aluminum cans and slightly more for other forms of it.


This area has not been specially victimized by copper thieves. It’s a worldwide problem. In Russia, many rural villages are without electricity because copper thieves, despite the danger of electrocution, have stolen transmission wires to sell as scrap.


As pointed out in an article in Tuesday’s Observer-Reporter however, copper criminals seem to be a lot more active in Washington and Greene counties than they are in other places, like West Virginia. We have to wonder why.


The problem goes far beyond the theft of copper welding cables from the trucks of gas industry workers. (The thieves are brazen enough to steal the leads while welders are inside fast-food restaurants having lunch.) Telephone, cable and electric companies have suffered from the loss of copper wire and equipment. So has the construction industry, as copper pipes and wiring is often stripped from half-finished buildings. Homeowners have returned from vacation to find their plumbing missing.


The losses are passed to consumers, and the result is higher costs for all of us and higher insurance rates.


The only thing these people can do with the copper they steal is to take it to a scrap yard that will buy it.


We have to wonder why law enforcers here have not cracked down on copper theft by going after the businesses that purchase stolen property. It is, after all, a crime to receive stolen goods, whether you are aware they are stolen or not.


It’s become clear copper theft is no minor crime. Our legislators ought to look at laws and regulations in other states that discourage these criminals, and police would do well to spend less effort catching marijuana smokers and more effort busting copper thieves. They might start at the point of sale.


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