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Back in December, a hospital construction site in Kernersville, North Carolina, got a lesson in just how far copper thieves will go to swipe the uber-recyclable metal: They stripped out “tens of thousands of dollars” of piping, even “climbing up in the ceiling with a hacksaw and a ladder to cut it out.”

I knew this kind of thing was getting bad, but not this bad. I’ve even heard to thieves cutting down street signs for the aluminum in the posts.

To make matters worse, thieves also hit a nearby FedEx cargo hub just weeks later, blagging hundreds of hand tools, power tools, and generators. All in all, it’s a lousy time to be a tool guy in NC.

Policy Continue To Probe Construction Site Thefts [WX12.com]


19 Responses to Copper Theft Sucks

  1. Jason says:

    We lost power at work a few years ago because someone stole copper from a live electrical vault:


    LIVE! There was some talk at the time about it being an inside job because of some safety equipment left behind.

  2. Toolhearty says:

    Is it just me, or is the guy in the photo sporting a mohawk?

  3. rick says:

    Knew a guy who rested out a house. The tennants stole everything, piping and wires from the walls for drug money…. very realistic….

  4. Bob says:

    A few years ago, some poor local soul decided to steal the catenary lines over a railtrack. It ended badly.


    I laughed pretty hard when I read it. Must have been something to see.

  5. Adam says:

    Bob, I remember when that happened in Quarryville, that gave me a good laugh as well.
    It is really pathetic that people steal this stuff. What makes me even more mad is that there are salvage yards out there that obviously aren’t asking any questions when people bring this stuff in

  6. rob says:

    It also happens regularly that thieves steal copper from remote wireless radio base stations (cell towers).

  7. _Jon says:

    It is happening regularly in Detroit. They will steal from an abandoned house. They break in the back, then rip out all of the electrical from the walls and the plumbing from the basement. I’ve seen basements completely full of water because they didn’t shut the line off – they just cut and carried.

  8. a. j. says:

    This kind of theft has been going on for the last decade in Detroit. Empty, foreclosed homes and the draw of free copper has really ravaged the city’s housing market.

  9. Blair says:

    In Dayton , OH last summer, a crew climbed to the top of the county courts building, made their way across to the safety building (HQ for the city PD), and took copper from the roof top AC units. The scrap dealers around here, at least the honest ones, have increased their scrutiny of copper scrap, and several apprehensions have been made due to their efforts.

    Still, on rehabs, Pex / PVC is a good idea where you can use it.

  10. Jack says:

    Happening in here St. Louis too. 🙁

    In my neighborhood its been gutters, down-spouts and rehabs. Over Christmas, power-cables where lifted from a park’s Christmas light display.

  11. cb says:

    I bought a foreclosed house in 2008, AC had $10 worth of copper stripped, cost me $2500 to replace.

  12. Cameron Watt says:

    People do stupid things when they’re desperate and it doesn’t matter whether or not their need is real; they’ll act if they believe it’s real.

    I don’t like it when anybody gets killed, like when thieves try to take live wires; even a waste of skin has family…if you don’t care about that, then consider the poor fellow who has to bag him up.

    …Having given my bleeding-heart opinion, let me say that there’s nothing wrong with most thieves that can’t be fixed by a trip ’round the back of the wood shed.

    I once worked in a fab shop that had to make a set of aluminum gates twice. They were stolen shortly after they were installed and the customer called us up to make another set; with a few design changes to make them harder to steal.

    @Adam: Scrap dealers in British Columbia require ID and take down personal info; I think that undercover police were even going into yards to look for scrap that was obviously stolen and one news story showed a pile of memorial plaques in a scrap yard. There’s nothing wrong with most crooked scrap dealers that can’t be fixed by….

  13. Cameron Watt says:

    Ahh….my wife just informed me that that dealer that I referred to, who bought the stolen memorial plaques, did so because he was worried that if he didn’t take them, the thief would run off before the police could arrive and they’d be bought by someone else and destroyed. He paid the thief and remembered as much as he could to pass on to the police.

    …but some dealers surely do buy scrap they know is stolen.

  14. fred says:

    People have been stealing manhole covers – as well as the copper wires contained below them:


  15. phil says:

    I recently had my tool shed cleaned out by thieves. You think that the good stuff is in the house – no – the ‘man’ toys are in the shed. A lot was less than 2 years old. I lost around $4000 (no insurance) – and according to my neighbor who just got the slightest glimpse of the vehicle as they sped away – tools hanging out the back of a stolen 2 door Explorer, it would’ve been worse had it been a pickup or Suburban – they got all that they could carry.

    I chalk it up to the crappy economy – no jobs, no hopes, etc.

    But, I do like Cameron’s suggestion.

    I’d love to see cities enact mandatory lisencing for discreet video taping of their clients for all pawn shops and scrap yards. In order to stay in business, they record every transaction. But, then I guess the thieves would find other outlets.

  16. Cameron Watt says:

    I’ve heard it said that everybody has a job. If they can’t find a legitimate one, they get an illegitimate one.

    @phil: It’s for the best that you weren’t there when you were robbed. If you lost your temper with the thieves, you’d be in trouble with the police as well.

    I’m not %100 sure, but I believe that Vancouver, B.C. requires pawnbrokers to report sellers and borrowers to the city police but I don’t know about flea markets.

    On the lighter side: When I lived in Vancouver, there were a couple of flea markets on my side of town and a joke I heard a friend say more than once was that his apartment had been robbed again and his weekend plans were to go down to buy his television back.

  17. MeasureOnceCutTwice says:

    My Grandfather had a summer home in a Maine lake community. Most of the houses were built on the side of the hill, so the front was elevated on posts – a walk-in basement. More than once the whole neighborhood was cleaned out by thieves who stole the copper pipes from the basements over the winter. They finally caught the guy as he was dragging a hot water heater down the dirt road behind his car.

  18. Cameron Watt says:

    @MeasureOnceCutTwice: I bet that made the residents’ blood boil. I expected the story to end with the words, “I wonder if the doctors saved his legs….” 🙂

  19. MattC says:

    Two stories:
    First, I worked for a local Utility Company and theft of copper HV wiring was a fairly commonplace occurence. Unfortunately, we would leave reels of cable at substations for future projects and thieves would cross over the barbed wire fencing and try to steal the cabling. Occasionally, a thief would be electrocuted when trying to exit. (overhead HV cabling + thief crossing over high fence with a highly condustive material = a very bad day).

    To echo what “rick” said, a house in my neighborhood (quiet suburban area) had all its copper lines removed by its inhabitants to feed their oxycoton habit.

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