Scrap Metal Demolition Tip: Preventing Scrap Metal Theft on Your Job Site

Scrap Metal Demolition and RecyclingIt’s common for scrap metal thieves to take pipes and copper wire. But as scrap prices have risen in the past decade, more daring metal thefts have occurred. Manhole cover thefts have plagued Philadelphia, for instance. Old stadium seats were recently dismantled and stolen from a defunct Cleveland high school.  And three men were recently arrested in Memphis, Tennessee for stealing bus shelters for scrap metal salvage.

Across the country, police departments are working hard to crack down on scrap metal theft. However, that’s not an easy task, given that the FBI doesn’t track scrap metal theft in its Uniform Crime Report. Without this key analytic information, police departments must rely on insurance claims of scrap metal theft, which are known to underestimate the incidence of this crime.

Scrap metal demolition outfits are not immune to this form of theft. It’s not unusual for demo contractors to discover theft on their initial property walk-through. Some thieves specialize in taking nonferrous metals from vacant properties. Rising scrap metal prices have even driven some robbers to steal metals from active demolition sites.

In this post we discuss how to prevent scrap metal loss at your job site. Construction and scrap metal demolition contractors can learn more about the factors that go into scrap metal loss, and what they can do to prevent it.

Root Causes of Scrap Metal Theft

Rise in Prices. The price for scrap metal has been on the rise over the last few years, attracting more and more theft. As thieves become more desperate, their actions have more potential for harm. We have read stories of thieves making off with truckloads of salvage material, from catalytic converters to industrial batteries. Often, when confronted, thieves try to escape from the police, resulting in the possibility for dangerous collisions. In other cases, people have suffered serious injury to themselves while attempting to steal metal from hazardous situations, such as copper from power transformers.

Properties that are Easy to Break Into. Break-ins occur with unfortunate frequency in easily penetrated scrap business. Fence line breaks and insecure interior storage areas may be breached. Some security companies claim that their guard services can prevent such security breaches. Reclaiming scrap from thieves is stressful at best, and impossible at worst. A virtual or real security guard can keep this from happening in the first place.

How to Respond to Scrap Metal Theft
There are several things that you can do in the case of scrap metal theft.

a. Analyze the problem. How is the material being stolen? Take action based on the findings of your inquiry.

b. Do not rely on law enforcement alone. Mark metals with paint or other difficult-to-remove materials. Keep a master list of your scrap inventory, and don’t schedule scrap metal deliveries unless someone will be on site to receive them.

c. Make it difficult for thieves to do business by interrupting their ability to return the product to the market. As soon as scrap has been stolen from your property, report it to the police and ask that they inform scrap metal buyers.

d. Limit the opportunities for criminal activity. Most scrap metal remains unsecure, so raising public awareness by reporting scrap metal theft is paramount.

e. Secure valuable metal and scrap. This can be done with a bolt, chain, or cage. The use of a fence perimeter system is also encouraged.

f. Use electronic monitoring, i.e. surveillance, to provide evidence in scrap metal prosecutions, and to discourage theft in the first place. (Be sure to post “Smile, you’re on camera!” signs around your project to let thieves know they are being watched.)

g. Post a “No Trespassing” sign as well.

Solving the problem. Laws do not always help. Once the theft has been carried out it is difficult to enforce the law. Regulations exists that can help scrap yards identify thieves, but it is still difficult to catch them. In addition, when a buyer refuses to accept goods they believe to be stolen, the thieves will often go to another buyer until they have successfully sold the stolen metal.

Working together. Concerned parties must learn to work together. Law enforcement agencies do not always have the budget to deal with this problem, although in some areas special units have been formed to focus on the theft of scrap and salvage material. The Institute of Scrap Recovery Industries (ISRI) represents 1600 recycling companies, and tries to coordinate these efforts by bringing law enforcement and recycling companies together. For instance, the ISRI organizes tours so that law enforcement officers can see how scrap facilities operate.

Technology. ISRI employs a website called that allows law enforcement and registered companies to report scrap theft and coordinate recovery efforts. The industry also aims to raise public awareness about scrap theft. Citizens are urged to be on the lookout and to report suspicious behavior and potential thefts to local law enforcement.

There are many ways to reduce scrap theft, but the bottom line is that demolition and contractor firms must take an active role in this process. Working together with law enforcement, demolition companies can inform the public on how they can help with this problem. Demolition contractors can also protect themselves with technology-savvy security.

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