Metal thieves
July 25, 2007 7:58 AM   Subscribe

Because of booming economies in China, India and elsewhere the price of metals, such as copper and aluminum, have reached all time highs. Empty beer kegs for example can be sold for up to $27. Washington DC is experiencing a crime wave of metal thieves who are stripping everything from lamp posts, gutters, catalytic converters and bleacher seats.
posted by stbalbach (49 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's really irresponsible for the thieves to do this in Washington, DC. Anywhere else and this scheme could be profitable for years! But now someone's going to rip off a legislative aide and ruin it for everyone in the country.
posted by grobstein at 8:02 AM on July 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Bubbles musta hitched a ride from Baltimore!
posted by The Straightener at 8:03 AM on July 25, 2007 [6 favorites]

Stealing for scrap : It's not just for Russia anymore!
posted by Afroblanco at 8:03 AM on July 25, 2007

They've already instituted laws here in town. People have been stealing everything that's not bolted down. (If they can pry it loose, it's not bolted down.)
posted by IronLizard at 8:05 AM on July 25, 2007

Ah, the invisible hand at work.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:07 AM on July 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

Why, those theiving metal termites!
The unlucky ones forget to check for live wires and their assplodes!
posted by doctorschlock at 8:11 AM on July 25, 2007

Also see the Henry Moore sculture stolen for its scrap value.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:12 AM on July 25, 2007

Yeah, most all I know about this I learned from The Wire.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:13 AM on July 25, 2007

Empty beer kegs for example can be sold for up to $27.

Full ones go for even more.
posted by three blind mice at 8:14 AM on July 25, 2007

the funniest shit is people getting electrocuted trying to steal power lines. happens all the time too. good ol' natural selection at work.
posted by quarter waters and a bag of chips at 8:16 AM on July 25, 2007

We lost all power at work for a day last year because some idiots were trying to rip out the copper power lines from the abandoned warehouse next door.
posted by octothorpe at 8:19 AM on July 25, 2007

Eh, amateurs. The Detroit versions of these thieves have already moved on to stealing the insides of fire hydrants!

Oh, and also, those flip down and detachable doors on the backs of trucks? They come off in about thirty seconds, so they're also a recently popular target.
posted by Pufferish at 8:19 AM on July 25, 2007

Why aren't these thieves here to steal the stripped parts car I have yet to get around hauling to the wrecking yard?
posted by maxwelton at 8:32 AM on July 25, 2007

Fucking Wolverine better keep his eye on his adamantium skeleton is what I'm saying.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:32 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

The next step is for everything that is currently made of metal to instead be made of plastic, causing more global warming, etc. Downward spiral.
posted by DU at 8:35 AM on July 25, 2007

i've been looting copper right out of our coinage for about two years. pre-1982 pennies (and some 1982's) and nickels are worth more than their face value. right now, approximately 20% of the pennies in circulation are pre-1982 (and dropping fast, due to gresham's law and folks like me). awhile back, the treasury department issued a regulation criminalizing the destruction of coins, but not the hoarding, so i won't melt any of these down, but i assume no responsibility for the actions of people i might sell them to in the future.
posted by bruce at 8:36 AM on July 25, 2007

In some cases, thieves have put themselves in great danger by stealing live electrical wires from buildings. A 41-year-old man was electrocuted this month in a vacant building in Pasadena, and a 47-year-old man was killed while stripping wire from a D.C. school last year. In the past year, about two dozen people have been killed across the country while trying to steal metals, according to news accounts.

Is it wrong that this makes me happy?
posted by docpops at 8:41 AM on July 25, 2007

Yes, that happened around here too, and the Einstein who fried himself while stealing the wire was of all things an electrician.
posted by caddis at 8:52 AM on July 25, 2007

huh. so people are stripping down our cities to feed the ravenous demands of the developing world.

You know, its funny -- it seems like every time I log on to Metafilter things get just a little bit more dystopian.
posted by Avenger at 9:04 AM on July 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

That happened in my house when it was under contract for sale. It had been vacant for about a year, and somebody kicked in the back door and cut out all of the hanging copper pipes from the basement. Fortunately, it was still covered by the seller's insurance.

A couple guys were fried in an electrical conduit a few months later.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:05 AM on July 25, 2007

Three buildings across the street from my house just got torn down, but were sitting there vacant for several weeks beforehand. We went and walked around in the spooky empty apartments several times, but I never even thought to strip the copper out of the walls. I'm so mad at myself. I'd never make it as a junky.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:21 AM on July 25, 2007

Up next on a very special episode of Boneyard
posted by drezdn at 9:25 AM on July 25, 2007

Thieves in NJ have been stealing the horizontal pieces of highway guardrails, but thoughtfully leaving the posts.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:27 AM on July 25, 2007

With the price of aluminum near a 20-year high last summer, someone carted away the bleacher seats at the District's Fort Greble Field, home to Ballou Senior High School's baseball team.

A real criminal would have descended on the players mid-game and stolen all of the aluminum bats at gunpoint.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:31 AM on July 25, 2007

Wish there were better scrap collectors in NYC. What's thrown away in the garbage here is incredible. Every day I walk down streets with dumpsters overflowing with perfectly fine office furniture, lighting fixtures, construction supplies, electrical equipment. A staggering waste.
posted by nickyskye at 9:57 AM on July 25, 2007

In Baltimore, they steal lamp posts.
posted by schroedinger at 10:01 AM on July 25, 2007

So... why aren't they coming down on the scrap metal retailers that buy this stuff? Just wondering.
posted by jokeefe at 10:02 AM on July 25, 2007

Oh, and by "wondering" I mean "it would be nice to not be woken up by the sound of shopping carts full of scrap metal being wheeled down the back alley at 3 a.m."
posted by jokeefe at 10:04 AM on July 25, 2007

jokeefe, they are in some areas. In South Bend, a couple guys stole a 1 ton roll of copper pipe. The cops are keeping an eye on the junk buyers for it.

A new ordinance was just passed that requires those selling scrap to show ID to try and curb the problem.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:05 AM on July 25, 2007

There was a scare in my town a while back about people stealing hostas, just driving up to houses, digging up their hostas.
They even had the nerve to dig up hostas from the public library and the town center.

Luckily, we moved our hostas from the front yard to the garden and they weren't hit.
posted by Esoquo at 10:10 AM on July 25, 2007

I had an online friend who lived in South Africa a few years ago, whose service kept getting interrupted by people stealing telephone cable.
posted by Foosnark at 10:12 AM on July 25, 2007

They steal memories too. Which has caused some plaques to be replaced with plastic.
posted by Gungho at 10:12 AM on July 25, 2007

This just goes to show you that criminals are idiots.

The value of the metal in an value ordinary nickel dated from 1946-2007 is $0.07. In other words, change a dollar into nickels, melt them down, and make a 40% return.

With pennies before 1982, the return is almost 150%, but those are harder to come by.

Of course it is illegal to melt coins in the US.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:30 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wasn't this a problem in world of the old TV show Max Headroom?

Twenty minutes into the future, indeed.
posted by quin at 10:30 AM on July 25, 2007

Who says recycling isn't alive and well?
posted by rolypolyman at 10:44 AM on July 25, 2007

Holy crap, according to this, there is .0313 lbs Al in a soda can, and at the current price of aluminum of $1.2576/lb, an aluminum can is worth almost $0.04?!

So why the hell should anyone recycle their cans for free?
posted by Pastabagel at 10:47 AM on July 25, 2007

In Austin, it has turned violent.
posted by rush at 11:01 AM on July 25, 2007

Dairy Crate Rustlers!
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:10 AM on July 25, 2007

The worst part of this is how much the price of ammunition has gone up. Not only are these guys taking off with any scrap they can get their hands on, you actually have to think about whether it's worth the cost to shoot them...
posted by vorfeed at 11:11 AM on July 25, 2007

It's uncanny (ha!) that the big scrap yard in Philly is also within spitting distance of the hot dope spots. I'm sure they didn't plan it that way, but the collapse of industry in the city that economically gutted the Kensington neighborhood has created a very convenient set up. I see guys pushing shopping carts full of scrap along Frankford Avenue from a mile or two away to trade it in at the big yard just north of Lehigh. Then it's a hop, skip and jump over to Kensington and Somerset or Hancock and Cambria which are two of the biggest corners going and have been for years.

One stop shopping! You can't beat it.
posted by The Straightener at 11:55 AM on July 25, 2007

There was a scare in my town a while back about people stealing hostas...Luckily, we moved our hostas from the front yard to the garden and they weren't hit.

Esoquo: At least things aren't so bad that they're stealing lupins. Stand and Deliver!
posted by honest knave at 12:14 PM on July 25, 2007

Yeah, friends of ours had their house burn down while they were on vacation (caused by lightning) and unfortunately it was reported on the radio that they were on vacation so the neighbors ran shifts chasing off the curious and worse -- including a guy who showed up with a shovel and tried to dig out the hostas.

Around here the metal theft fad is beer kegs. But we recently replaced an historical plaque commemorating early settlers that had been stolen 20 years ago (at that time, they even checked the river with police divers), and the local community college has never replaced the metal letters on a brick sign that were stolen 25 years ago. Not 100% new.
posted by dhartung at 12:57 PM on July 25, 2007

To stop this, they will have to place the burden on the scrapyards.

And of course they know. They typically buy dumptrucks full of scrap. When some kid on a bicycle shows up with 25lbs of copper wire slung over his shoulder, why in the world would you buy it?

Put the burden on the scrapyards, and stuff like that will cease.

What I'd really like to know is how much would a dude get for working 8 hours and stealing wire, versus how much he could get paid working 8 hours to install the wire in the first place.

Technically, you could work both sides of this and come out like a king.

Also, is my sarcasm detector really that far off, or are you guys being serious about the hosta thieves?
posted by Ynoxas at 2:08 PM on July 25, 2007

Evidently, plant thievery is a valid, widespread problem for a number of homeowners. Please. Someone do an FPP on this. Ridiculous!
posted by honest knave at 3:19 PM on July 25, 2007

So why the hell should anyone recycle their cans for free?

"Collect glass, plastic or aluminum beverage containers with a 5-cent deposit, such as those for beer, soda and other carbonated drinks, and take them to a local grocery, deli or other store for recycling. (You can also put your redeemable cans and bottles out with your other recyclables where needy individuals may find them and turn them in for the nickel deposit.) "

Scavenging and recycling cooking grease in NYC.
posted by nickyskye at 7:08 PM on July 25, 2007

Extraordinarily, the overhead wires for the electric train system on one line were stolen here in Melbourne a few months ago - while the wires were live.

Massive commuter disruption of course.
posted by wilful at 8:28 PM on July 25, 2007

A double post from today on the topic.
posted by cortex at 1:05 PM on July 31, 2007

I searched before double posting, I promise. This post didn't show up when searching the site for "metal" using the little Yahoo search box thingiee. Anyway....

Two guys snaked about 32 pounds of copper pipe from the external cooling fans for the largest food bank in Indiana (news link). They estimate they lost $500,000 in food, including over a ton of cheese. The community is helping them out, but still.

They think one of the guys might have been injured when he breached the pipe. The director of the food bank was on the news and she said that she hoped he wasn't injured. She is a better person than I...

Someone in my dupe post asked about security. They had installed lighting and a camera at the cooler area (which is outside), along with a security system and fenced it in. They cut through the fence. The alarm went off inside of the building, but failed to call the alarm company (according to local broadcast news).
posted by jeversol at 1:18 PM on July 31, 2007

I saw something about the food bank thing before the (deleted) post, actually - I look at the Star/News website most days. It got me thinking about how things will have to change if theft of any metal left out in the open continues or gets worse.

Not that I had any big ideas about how to prevent it. Anyone else?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 2:39 PM on July 31, 2007

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