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The Suburbanite
  • Jim Hillibish: Greed goes gold for copper thieves

  • It was a two-paragraph police brief, but it hit home in my neighborhood. The cops arrested two guys for cutting the grounding wire off utility poles. The tip-off was the bolt cutters they carried.

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  • It was a two-paragraph police brief, but it hit home in my neighborhood. The cops arrested two guys for cutting the grounding wire off utility poles. The tip-off was the bolt cutters they carried.
    At last, a rare victory in the scrapper wars.
    Meanwhile, Ohio continues as the top state for copper-theft claims to insurance companies.
    In many neighborhoods, anything made of metal had better be locked up or it’s gone. A Realtor told me at least 70 percent of Canton’s vacant structures have been stripped of electrical wire and copper plumbing, some of them multiple times. Scrappers keep an eye out for plumber and electrician repair trucks.
    A house renovator told me folks are scared to put for-sale signs in their yards.
    A friend saw a kid with a wagon pulling a heat pump down the middle of his street. He confronted him and the kid bugged out. The system came off a neighbor’s house.
    I was out walking Lily, my dog, and noticed wire insulation around utility poles. Scrappers had spent the evening cutting down the grounding wires, made of thick copper.
    FIRE RISK
    Victimless crime? Hardly.
    The grounding wires stretch from a transformer down the pole and into the ground. Cut them down and our neighborhood electrical system and our houses are wide open to lightning strikes and power spikes.
    All this for $3 to $4 a pound for scrap copper.
    Last summer, AEP replaced the wires, at $5,000 a pole. The installers said they work full time on scrapped poles. They say most police think it’s only a minor crime.
    The only way to stop it is to shut off the cash that scrappers get at the point of sale. That requires undercover work, as Akron Police did a few years ago. They busted a ring that was stealing manhole covers and sewer grids.
    If government doesn’t get a handle on this, it will only get worse. In New York City, scrappers steal aluminum streetlight poles off the freeways. In Modesto, Calif., they stripped wires from runway lighting at the municipal airport.
    In Canton, outdoor air conditioners weighing tons have been swiped. Even second-floor units are not safe.
    Drive around. You’ll see signs on vacant houses that say “no copper.” Because most of them have been raided and our scrappers are still hungry, they’re moving into inhabited neighborhoods and stealing whatever presents the opportunity.
    About the only enforcement is by accident, including the guy trying to steal wire from an active power transformer station. He was electrocuted. Our embattled neighborhoods never will be livable as long  scrappers are destroying homes and infrastructure.
    BAD FOR IMAGE
    Page 2 of 2 - It’s even a community development issue. Companies have had to install security and armored fences to fend off the scrappers, hardly a good recommendation for our fair city.
    My neighbors are keeping a wary eye on our utility poles. The scrapping thing gets personal when it threatens your family’s house.
    METAL THIEVES THRIVE
    Metal thefts move in concert with the price of scrapped metal, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau; a 50 percent price rise generates a nearly 50 percent increase in related crime.
    Other facts from the bureau’s 2012 report:
    • 25,000 major claims filed for metal theft from 2009 to 2011, 96 percent of them for copper; most cases go unreported.
    • Top five theft states: Ohio, Texas, Georgia, California, Illinois
    • Top city: Cleveland
    • Most commonly stolen items, in order: pipe, air conditioners, tubing, wire
    • Most frequently stolen metals, in order: copper, gold, aluminum, silver, brass
    • Where stolen: Utility systems, farms, unoccupied houses and other buildings, construction sites; 55 percent commercial, 45 percent residential