In the past decade, incidents of copper wire theft have risen dramatically.
Driven by the demand for building materials in burgeoning overseas markets like China and India, copper prices have risen more than 400% in the past five years and shows no signs of stopping.
Record high prices, availability, low level of risk and until recently, light legal penalties if caught, have caused what some would say is an epidemic of crime in major centres throughout North America.
Once considered a crime of opportunity that occurred largely due to the isolation of construction and oil sites where wire was readily available, has now become a urban problem that is causing law enforcement officials to launch initiatives designed not only to increase awareness of the growing situation, but to target the individuals and businesses that buy and sell in this rapidly growing underground network. Despite their best efforts, the incidents of theft continue to rise and thieves are becoming more brazen and willing to take greater risks as the payoff continues to grow.
Recent accounts in the news include a Fresno California highway left in the dark when thieves disconnected street lights and removed all of the copper wire placing would be travellers in a precarious situation if they became stranded at night on a stretch of darkened highway. Other accounts like the daring theft of six km of underground wire alongside another US highway have left police baffled and utility companies frustrated as they utilize already strained resources to correct and repair these situations. It’s not only a problem in the US; in fact almost every major center in North America has witnessed an alarming increase in these crimes. Thieves removed 11,000 meters of copper wire with a value of $98,000.00 from a Saskatchewan storage yard on the Easter weekend, Vermillion police arrested 2 people stealing copper wire in March, and back in 2008 a Calgary man died while trying to steal copper wire from an underground installation. The list goes on and on. You need only to type the words, "copper wire theft" into a search engine to see depth of the problem.
So what can be done about the problem?
Some companies have begun utilizing aluminum wire in place of copper in an effort to curb the thefts, but the real solution may lie in the field of Nano Technology which provides a solution to two of the most pressing problems in prosecuting these cases:
Traceability and immediate proof of ownership.
The technology, which is invisible to the eye, marks the wire so that it can be traced and identified after it has been stolen and is supported by an online database that contains ownership information, allowing recyclers and law enforcement official’s access to real time verification and ownership information. The wire itself has tinned outer wire as well as the center wire making it instantly identifiable and providing a very real theft deterrent.
Regardless of the steps taken and the penalties in place the most important step to be taken is to raise awareness of the problem. Everyone should be aware of it and also how it affects us all in the cost of utilities and infrastructure operating costs, all of which have at least some impact on the cost of our utilities. Even more importantly you should contact law enforcement if you witness any suspicious activities on or around any place where large amounts of copper wire are located.
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