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Metal theft rampant in light of record commodity prices

Can crime be a leading economic indicator?  That’s the question occasioned by a growing number of news stories.

Sarasota County’s (FL) Herald Tribune this week features a story of an arrest of 62 people for stealing anything from air conditioners to copper wiring to plumbing parts. West Virginia’s Westport News reports the arrest of two suspects on charges of stealing aluminum lightning rods and copper from a hospital roof.  And according to the Greefield Reporter, two Pima County men were arrested for having stolen storm drains and other metals in Tuscon, AZ.

It may not be making national headlines, but local media reports are full of stories about scrap metal theft – an increasing problem that has law enforcement on their toes, and is causing massive damage for businesses worldwide.

In Europe, the railway system is bearing the brunt of metal theft, with copper wiring being a particularly popular target. Germany’s national rail provider Deutsche Bahn (DB) for example reported more than 1,400 cases of iron and non-ferrous theft in the first four months of 2011 alone, with the cost to DB amounting to millions of euros, not counting the damage caused to the company’s image in light of cancellations and delays due to missing cables.   The German weekly Der Spiegel has the story.

With record commodity prices and demand still expected to outpace supply for metals like copper, which some see as a new leading economic indicator, don’t expect metal thieves to retire anytime soon.