The theft of scrap metal has become a fast growing crime in Sweetwater according to Sweetwater Chief of Police Brian Frieda. Metals such as brass, copper, aluminum, nickel and stainless steel are being sought after by those looking to make money by selling it to recyclers. Items that are stolen have included scrap iron, copper, irrigation pipe and items off of railroad tracks. "Some will park and walk up and down the railroad right-of-way to find metal items. Some are even pulling spikes from the tracks," said Frieda.
Railroad rights-of-way are generally considered private property by the respective railroad owners and trespassers can be arrested for interference with railroad property.
"They are taking anything they can get their hands on and trying to sell it," stated Frieda. "They are driving the streets, looking for metal in yards and other places to find the metal to sell to scrap yards."
Frieda warns residents to be wary of this activity in local neighborhoods. "If you see an unfamiliar car in the alley or cars passing by slowly, scoping out properties, call us here at the police department and someone will come out to investigate the situation. Also, be careful what you put in storage sheds and rented storage facilities. Don't store valuables or firearms, just keep them in the house. Once your property is scrapped it is gone for good, this is unrecoverable property."
Frieda also says that "lighting is the cheapest form of crime prevention."
He also recommends that residents take photos of their property and write a driver's license number on valuable items.
Frieda says that he has already started working with local pawn shops on these issues, having the shops record all precious metal items that are brought into the store, also keeping track of the people that bring the items into the store. He says that the process has had success recovering some stolen items. Pipe and metal has also been recovered.
According to the latest statistics from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which tracks incidents of metal theft, 25,083 claims were filed from 2009 to 2012, compared with 13,861 from 2006 to 2008. Nearly 96 percent of the claims in the more recent period were for copper theft.
The five leading states for the thefts are Ohio, Texas, Georgia, California and Illinois, the NICB said.