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Prevention measures required to thwart metal thefts

POSTED October 5, 2011 8:37 a.m.
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Despite well-intentioned local and state laws, thefts of valuable metals continue throughout this county at an alarming rate. Businesses (primarily) are losing air conditioner parts, water supply valves, electrical wire and similar items to "scorched earth" thieves who stop at nothing to get a few lousy dollars worth of copper, aluminum, iron and other metals. To put this into perspective, copper sells for approximately $2.30 per pound. Aluminum fetches 45 cents per pound and brass, $1.30 per pound. For all the damage the thieves cause and all the effort they expend when stealing these kinds of metals, it hardly seems worth it, but to them, apparently it is better than getting a legitimate job.

These thieves will spend hours stripping wire from a public park sprinkler system. The damage they cause can reach thousands of dollars, while what they are paid for their spoils might be just a few dollars. The damage caused by removing aluminum or copper parts from a large building air conditioning unit can exceed $10,000 for repairs. These businesses may not be able to operate until the repairs are made, causing even greater economic damage.

Metal thieves also have been stealing manhole covers and storm drain grates. Clearly, whoever is buying these things from the thieves, knows that those items are stolen, so they are as criminally culpable as the thieves who actually stole the items.

The police in our region conduct regular visits to local recyclers, and they (the recyclers) appear to be compliant with the regulations that prohibit them from buying stolen metals, which indirectly contributes to the theft problem. My theory is that "out-of-town" metal buyers meet up with the thieves of our area; they buy their stolen metals and then transport them to a location some distance away from here. Whatever is actually happening, these metal thieves have no problem finding an outlet for their stolen metals.

Since the state and local laws that are designed to thwart the thieves are not producing the desired results, the best option to safeguard property is prevention. I strongly urge all persons with valuable metals on their properties to take the time to mark those items with identifying marks and engravings. I am fully aware of the inconvenience this suggestion creates, but it is necessary in this environment where most all local communities have any number of nighttime thieves roaming the streets in search of any metal they can steal. All items, fixtures and mechanical devices made of valuable metals should be marked in a way that recyclers and the police can immediately and easily determine ownership. Heavy duty paints are okay, but ownership information engraved into these items is the best method. Do not engrave drivers' license numbers (as was recommended a few decades ago) or Social Security numbers - a business name, address and phone number is best.

Some metal devices should be caged and locked to make theft of them more difficult. Access openings for sprinkler systems should be capped and locked. Video cameras would aid greatly in finding the thieves, but be careful about how and where they are placed; the thieves steal them too. There are other preventative measures as well, and a visit with your local police department crime prevention officer will also prove beneficial for ideas and suggestions.

The police take metal thefts seriously. We need to know of any tips or leads on these thefts and if a person wants to remain anonymous, they can call Modesto Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. The Crime Stoppers Program assures complete anonymity and it serves this entire county. In Ceres, the patrol officers are constantly on the lookout for metal thieves. And, while we have an idea about who some of the suspects are, we still need community members to be extra vigilant and quick to report suspicious persons who might be stealing or in possession of these metals.
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