Metal thefts still a problem despite drop

Copper wire on electric pole

Insurance claims for metal theft ­continue to fall, but the problem is far from over for electric cooperatives and others, a new report shows.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) said 28,040 claims were processed from 2014 through 2016. That’s down 22 percent from the period of 2013 through 2015. Throughout all four years, copper accounted for 98 ­percent of the metals reported stolen and, for the most part, copper prices fell over that time – meaning thieves got less for their efforts.

“Some states and local governments have increased the penalties associated with metal theft or are charging thieves with additional crimes if the theft caused damage to infrastructure or created a hazard to the public,” the report noted. As co-ops can attest, fixing the damage is often far more expensive than replacing the copper.

“Identifying stolen metal is not always possible, and opposition to these laws has made it difficult to get effective measures passed in some areas,” NICB said. “Even in areas where such laws exist, some unscrupulous scrap dealers may not abide by them, and enforcement of the laws has not always been a major priority until recent years when increases in metal thefts brought more attention to the problem.”

And it is a problem, because as the report points out, “thieves have been willing to go to almost any length to obtain the metal.” Co-ops are among the victims, with NICB noting that “electrical substations are frequently targeted, and some thieves have been electrocuted trying to steal live electrical wiring.”

Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives had more metal theft claims than any other state with 3,060 claims. Following Ohio, the other states in the top five for metal theft claims were New Jersey (2,661), Pennsylvania (2,435), New York (2,005) and Illinois (1,448).

Source: Michael W. Kahn, staff writer, NRECA