Gold or silver jewelry are common items of theft in Utah, but so are pipes, cables, and wires made of copper.
From hobby to crime
Beyond the precious metals used for jewelry, other metals such as copper also have a high value. As people became aware of this, they began searching for copper to turn around and sell for profit. Rummaging through trash cans and salvage yards, stripping wires hoping to reveal copper wiring turned into a time consuming yet financially rewarding hobby for many people. Unfortunately, many individuals were so desperate for cash they began stripping wires that were still being used.
Supply and demand
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, repairs and replacements from copper theft costs the U.S. nearly a billion dollars a year. Copper theft has been an ongoing problem for over a decade, with the instances of copper theft rising and falling right along with the price of raw copper. The higher the price for copper, the more thefts tend to accompany. Although there was a definite decrease in instances of copper theft after the drop in copper prices in 2009, copper theft remains a problem today.
More than just theft
The FBI issued a report on copper thefts claiming “copper thieves are threatening US critical infrastructure by targeting electrical sub-stations, cellular towers, telephone land lines, railroads, water wells, construction sites, and vacant homes for lucrative profits. The theft of copper from these targets disrupts the flow of electricity, telecommunications, transportation, water supply, heating, and security and emergency services and presents a risk to both public safety and national security.” Utah is well aware of these infrastructure threats. Back in 2006, over 6 miles of copper was pulled from the ground going to light poles along I-15 in Salt Lake City. As the lights went out, so did half a million dollars of copper wiring.
Illegal and dangerous
Copper theft could land the thief with jail time from charges such as theft, burglary, criminal mischief. More serious to criminal charges is the threat to their life. Taking wires that are connected to electrical equipment is extremely dangerous, and if an electrical shock doesn’t kill the person touching the live wires, it will do some irreparable damage. The risk of criminal charges and injury isn’t worth the price of copper. Leave it connected.