Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Metal theft update

Thefts of metal such as brass, copper, and aluminum have been an international crime problem for several years, as the value of these metals has risen. Theives will do thousands of dollars worth of damage to a commercial air conditioning unit or a cell phone base station just to make a few bucks on the scrap value.

Last year, a group of officers worked on a plan to try to reduce these thefts. Among the highlights, a new city ordinance restricting who can sell these metals, and requiring better identification of the seller. That law went into effect on December 1, 2006. Here's the comparison between the first six months of 2006 and 2007:

2006: 70 incidents, $112,812 loss and damage
2007: 57 incidents, $58,508 loss and damage

That's a nice decrease--close to 20% fewer cases, and 50% less loss and damage. Among the most aggravating cases last year was a number of new homes under construction that were stripped of their copper plumbing. The thieves even took the brand new brass water meters. You'd think that would have been a little suspicious when the local metal recycler bought those. Here's the data on the metal thefts at construction sites for the first six months:

2006: 38 incidents, $25,177 loss and damage
2007: 9 incidents, $14,646 loss and damage

While the ordinance has helped, I think public awareness has, too. We've had some nice cases where citizens have called in on suspicious persons around construction site. Our officers are more aware, too, and are watching construction areas closely on patrol. Some good on-view arrests have helped. In 2006, the Big Thomspson and Village Gardens subdivisions in southeast Lincoln were hard hit. The area is still developing, with lots of home construction this year, but the thefts and burglaries have stopped. The map below depicts the 2006 metal thefts in that neighborhood (the houses) and the 2007 prowler/suspicious person reports (the circles). One is related to the other!

As the construction site thefts have declined, though, a new kind of metal theft has emerged. So far this year, we have had 9 reports of thefts from communications tower sites, with a loss and damage of $15,025 (that's included in the totals above). Theives have gone after copper wire and copper grounding plates. Several more have been investigated by the Lancaster County Sheriff outside the city limits of Lincoln. Criminals are adaptable, and their modus operandi will change to take advantage of opporunties that present themselves. If you live near a radio or cell tower, we would appreciate your watchfulness and calls if you see anything suspicious.


Anonymous said...

Oh, here are some brand new brass water meters I bought but decided I didn't need after all! Everybody has this problem, too many water meters. That is suspicious, I agree.

It's good to see the trendline on these incidents decreasing, due to the efforts of LPD, alert citizens, and some stautory heft. You'd think there wouldn't be enough money in the scrap to make pilfering it pay, but what do I know. Picture ID and a print of the scrap seller's index finger perhaps.

Do any of the suspects in these cases happen to live in any of the apartment complexes in that highlighted map area, or in any Lincoln Housing Authority properties in that same highlighted area, or are they "commuting" to the crime area from elsewhere?

Anonymous said...

I would look at county employees as the ones suspect here. They know about it and have taken things from the Antelope Valley project and were never disciplined