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Infrastructure Metal Theft on the Rise

Aug 19, 2008
Recent news coverage across the U.S. has cited a rising problem in infrastructure metal theft from Pittsburgh to Massachusetts to Washington. Sewer grates, manhole covers, and even steel bridge castings from a railroad company have become the items of choice for those looking to cash in on the high price of metal. As the domestic and international demand for infrastructure and manufacturing metals has increased, the price for these commodities has created an escalation of metal thefts. These types of crimes do not only create serious safety problems, they also add a significant financial burden to the communities affected.

"Government agencies, police, and the public should be alert that the metal theft epidemic that we have been experiencing - has now apparently spread to ferrous materials," quoted a representative for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) in a spring 2008 article on their Web site.

ISRI is a non-profit trade organization that represents more than 1,350 companies that process, broker, and industrially consume scrap commodities. The organization works to develop tools to help law enforcement fight material theft crimes and to educate about the need for comprehensive efforts to solving this problem.

The organization has created the ISRI Theft Alert System for the use of law enforcement agencies. The system alerts recyclers in ISRI's contact list via email when informed of a material theft, not only in the state where the theft occurred but in surrounding states as well. The service is available for free to law enforcement agencies.

As noted in the IRSI article, there can be difficulty in discerning between stolen material and legitimate materials that comes from a scrap yard. Thankfully, stolen material is said to be a small percentage of the materials that comes into scrap yards.

The recent rise in ferrous metal theft is a serious concern due to the relative ease and availability of iron and steel materials. In addition, thieves will often cause serious damage to public or private infrastructure during the theft. Recovery of these materials is very difficult and replacement costs are often expensive.

In the past couple of years especially, thieves have directed their attentions to nonferrous materials, such as copper, bronze, stainless steel, and aluminum. ISRI's alert system reports the theft of a diverse collection of materials. Everything from cemetery urns and copper wiring to rural irrigation systems and bleachers from ball fields have been heisted by metal thieves. In addition, the system has indicated nonferrous materials are also the target of thieves, including newsprint, cardboard and plastic milk crates.

Prior to the rise in metal theft several years ago, the ISRI had created recommendations for reducing the risk of accepting stolen materials. A cooperative relationship between police and those in the scrap metal industry is said to be vital in the fight against metal theft. The organization has also worked to train police on identifying stolen material, as well as encouraging businesses to improve their record keeping and seller identification requirements. These steps help law enforcement track down the thieves and the metal they steal. The association is also a member of the National Crime Prevention Council.
About the Author
Soave Enterprises diversified management and investment company founded by Detroit businessman Anthony Soave that provides strategic planning, financial and other management resources to its affiliated business ventures in the real estate, automotive retailing, beer distribution, scrap metal, industrial services and transportation industries, among others. For more information on Tony Soave and Soave Enterprises, please visit the website.
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