26 Apr 2012

Illegal scrapping in Ohio highest in country, hurting businesses and residential areas

Author: Alexander Alusheff | Filed under: Enterprise Story, Spring 2012, Student Contributor

By Alex Alusheff

Ohio once prided itself in its metal manufacturing, but now the state finds itself on the opposite end of the spectrum.

With nearly 2,400 metal theft claims between 2009 and 2011, according to a report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a non-profit organization that works with law enforcement agencies to combat insurance fraud and crime, Ohio tops the charts in illegal scrapping in the country. Texas follows with 2,023 claims.

Out of all the metal thefts in the country, copper accounts for 96 percent, followed by aluminum with 3 percent. Brass and bronze account for less than 1 percent each. Chart made by Alex Alusheff.

Copper thefts in Ohio have been on the rise ever since the price more than quadrupled six years ago. Nationally, copper accounts for 96 percent of all metal theft claims with aluminum trailing in second, with a little more than 3 percent, according to the NICB report.

With these numbers, it’s no surprise the region has fallen victim to multiple metal thefts in the last few weeks.

In early April, approximately 50 street signs throughout northern Wood County were swiped from their posts, causing more than $1,000 in damage total, said county sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn.

On March 24, 1,000 feet of copper wire was reported stolen from a fence surrounding Frontier Communications in Bowling Green, according to police.

Sergeant Alan Carsey of the Bowling Green Police Division said the perpetrators cut the wire from the fence, entered the property and stole another copper coil device worth $500.

The overall estimated value for the stolen material is $2,500, not including cost to repair the fence, Carsey said.

Mike Valentine, general manager of Toledo Shredding LLC, a scrap metal recycling yard, said copper sells for $3 a pound compared to aluminum at 40 to 50 cents a pound.

However, the price of copper wasn’t always that high.

According to the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, an informational non-profit organization dealing with improving police efficiency, copper fell to a 65 cent low in 2002 before spiking up to $4 in 2006 due to new construction projects in the U.S. and China. China increased its demand in order to host the Olympics while the U.S. fueled its war effort in the Middle East.

This factor, along with economic recessions, led to the rise in illegal scrapping.

And when it comes to security, local businesses find themselves without many preventive options.

Tom Girten of Frontier Communications said while the fence has been fixed, there are no extra security measures that can be taken.

“We have lights and a fence, but you can’t stop somebody if they have wire cutters,” Girten said.
Copper wire has been stolen from the business in the past, he said.

On March 24, thieves broke into Frontier's lot, stealing 1,000 feet of copper fence wire as well as copper cable. The material above is a commonly sought after for scrapping. Photo by Alex Alusheff.

While stolen copper reports happen every now and then, Carsey said they are unusual.

Usually, the police get reports of people rummaging through dumpsters in search of aluminum cans, he said.

While illegal scrapping is typically moderate in cities like Bowling Green, incidents increase in bigger municipalities like Toledo and Columbus.

Stolen scrap metal gets reported every day, said Sergeant Richard Curry of the Columbus Division of Police.

Sergeant Joe Heffernan, public information officer of the Toledo Police Department said an estimated two to three scrapping thefts get reported a day in the city.

Both sergeants said old neighborhoods and abandoned houses are common targets for metal theft. Newer houses are made with PVC piping instead of copper, Heffernan said.

“You can go to work one day with your house intact, then someone can come in, and when you come home, there’s $20,000 in damage done,” he said.

In Columbus, homeless people commonly move into abandoned houses only to cannibalize it and move on to the next one for whatever money they can get, Curry said.

However, metal theft can do more than just damage property, it can endanger lives.

On March 26, thieves stole copper piping from an abandoned house causing a natural gas leak, which led to an explosion.

No one was injured in the blast, but that’s not the first time metal theft resulted in an explosion, Curry said.

A few years ago, thieves were in the process of stealing pipe when they cut into a gas line, blowing up a whole apartment complex, he said.

Illegal scrapping has resulted in a number of electrocution deaths in the past because scrappers try to steal from telephone wires or electric substations, the sergeants said.

“It shows that people are desperate and they will do anything for any money,” Curry said.

Toledo and Columbus experienced a rapid increase in illegal scrapping in the early 2000s, prompting the cities to create ordinances through city council or amend the Ohio Revised Code in the last decade in order to further deter crime.

Police also work with area scrap yards to catch illegal scrappers, Curry said.

“Scrap yards are an important piece to the puzzle,” Heffernan said.

Columbus area scrap yards are required to make a copy of a seller’s identification, collect a thumb print and update an online police report, Curry said.

Toledo police send area scrap yards an email alert or call to notify them of stolen items, which has led to arrests, Heffernan said.

Two weeks ago, Toledo Shredding received an email from the police regarding stolen steel. Later that day, someone showed up trying to sell steel that fit the police description. Valentine said the company was able to call the police and have the man arrested.

In the case of the 50 stolen street signs, Wasylyshyn said the surrounding scrap yards know not to take the signs.

Wasylyshyn said it’s unlikely that the signs were stolen to scrap and that it’s more so a prank.

According to Ohio Revised Code, illegal scrapping can result in a misdemeanor of the first, second, or fourth degree. Because of the overall cost of the street signs, the crime falls into the range of felony, he said.

View Scrapping: Yards and Incidents in a larger map

Map by Alex Alusheff.

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2 thoughts on “Illegal scrapping in Ohio highest in country, hurting businesses and residential areas

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    Alex, as always I’m really impressed with your work. You really went above and beyond here, especially with the visual material.

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