Submitted by: Acting Staff Sergeant Jason Bobrowich, Calgary Police Service Stolen Property Unit
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With growing demands from developing nations, labor disputes at copper mines and a declining US dollar, the world market price for copper has soared over 400 percent in the past 5 years. As a result of these conditions, copper metal thefts have impacted the city of Calgary and the province of Alberta at an astonishing rate, defining copper thefts aside of straight forward thefts, or break and enter property of fences.
With an apparent perceived low risk for high reward, criminals are initiating their attacks on critical infrastructure locations, telecommunications cable, electrical substations and light rail transit lines. Recent attacks have caused significant public safety issues by creating electrocution hazards, and a multitude of disruptions to landline phone services, loss of access to the 911 system, first responders, public transportation and utilities. Annual costs associated with the theft of copper in Alberta, are in the millions of dollars. Most attacks go beyond the simple costs of repair and replacement for stolen material. Although copper is the most valuable non- ferrous metal, other metals being stolen include – stainless steel, brass, bronze, aluminum, rhodium and platinum (mainly from catalytic converters).
COPPER CRIME TRENDS
In 2011, Calgary Police Service received 139 complaint s involving copper metal theft. Those same figures to October 2012 have increased over 26 percent. Based on intelligence, experience and numerous examples, Calgary Police Service copper theft strategy, spearheaded by the Stolen Property Unit, estimates that only half of all copper theft of fences are reported to police. Several examples of companies experiencing nightly, or in one instance multiple nightly incidents, have been reported to police. The rationale from victims not formally reporting their incidents to police is due to insufficient property damage and low stolen commodity values. Yet in another example, an offender admit ted to committing 29 copper theft incidents, with only10 incidents being reported to police by those victims.
Copper Theft Victims
Construction companies, Calgary Transit, energy sectors, utility services and communications providers are among the top victims of copper theft. Over one-third of all reported incidents in 2011 were from construction companies; followed by 14 percent sourced from LRT lines; 12 percent related to energy; 10 percent were thefts from telecommunications providers; 5 percent were offences against electrical companies; and 2.2 percent targeted the oil & gas industry.
Financial and Public Safety Impact
Copper thefts at critical infrastructure locations have caused disruptions and placed the public, emergency responders and repair crews at great risk of serious injury or death. In the US, FBI and Homeland Security stated that copper thefts at critical infrastructure locations, present a risk to public safety and national security. The loss of any landline phone service, including calls to 911, have affected thousands of customers in residential communities, businesses, schools and hospitals. A single cut to a telecommunications cable could cost up to $50,000 to repair. Over twenty incidents of copper bonding cable thefts occurred on the LRT tracks in Calgary during 2011. Incidents such as this, could cause trains to lose power, leaving the public stranded, and electrical grounding of the tracks to become unstable. Approximately $80,000 in repair costs and security enhancements were required. Continue reading