Copper capers

David Whalen
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'Crime of opportunity' getting more popular as metal values rise

An unidentified worker with Dominion Recycling cuts returned copper pipe in the workshop. Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram.

Dominion Recycling president Derm Power, whose company specializes in recycling non-ferrous metals, has had to increase security to safeguard the businesss metal supply.

Weve had our share of break-ins, he said. Weve had to beef up security.

Power isnt alone. Thanks to the phenomenon of globalization, where economic growth in one nation can impact economies and societal trends on the other side of the world, thefts of base metals have risen in North America in the last few years.

Due mainly to rapid economic development in China, India and other emerging economies, base metal prices have risen exponentially in the last five years.

Copper prices have more than quintupled from roughly C$0.71 a pound in August 2002 to about $3.85 a pound today.

As prices have risen, so, too, have thefts, often with the purpose of shipping the scrap metal to foreign markets.

These thefts often have lethal consequences. In Canada alone, there are countless instances of would-be thieves being electrocuted when they cut live wires.

In January, a man was killed in Montreal when he cut a live wire at a Hydro Quebec station. In May, a man was killed in New Brunswick following a break-in at a power station. Between January 2006 and July 2007, there were 75 copper wire-related break-ins in New Brunswick alone.

RNC media relations officer Const. Paul Davis says copper-inspired thefts have become more and more common in the last number of years.

He cites one instance from last month where a Mount Pearl business had $35,000 worth of electrical wire stolen from its fenced yard. The copper in the wire was worth $1,000.

Its not something we see every day, but we do see it from time to time, Davis said. (Copper) becomes more valuable to the thieves, as well as legitimate business operators.

He says in the last few years, police have found more and more burned electrical wire in wooded areas.

Weve come across people who actually burn wire to burn the coatings off it and theyre left with the scrap metal, Davis said.

His RCMP counterpart, Sgt. Wayne Newell, says the trend is provincewide. He says construction sites are prime targets for copper thieves.

Its a crime of opportunity if theres a building under construction, Newell said. Ive even seen it removed from walls.

People will stop at nothing to make a dollar. thats for sure.

Power isnt expecting the problem to go away anytime soon. He says that at any given time, there could be as much as $150,000 in metal on site at his business.

Were probably the biggest location in the city, so we get hit even harder when (thefts) come.

Organizations: Hydro Quebec, RCMP

Geographic location: New Brunswick, North America, China India Canada Montreal Mount Pearl

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