It’s a sad reality that property crimes — robberies, home burglaries, and business break-ins — tend to increase during poor economic times. This trend may also manifest itself in other ways, like thefts of raw materials, scrap metal, and other items which can be sold or redeemed for cash.
Copper: A Hot Commodity
Across the country, criminals are going to construction sites and pilfering copper wire and pipe as well as sheet metal and other valuable items. Thieves are even ripping out these items after they have been installed in homes or buildings. They’re also targeting public infrastructure, like train signals, rail yards, and streetlights.
This crime wave has gotten so bad that homeowners are now discovering that their copper gutters are being stolen right off of their houses.
How Gutter Thieves Operate
Some thieves only grab the downspouts because they are easily within reach. Others either reach up or step on low walls to get the copper gutters along the roofline. Once the gutters are removed, thieves flatten them out by stomping on them, and then fold them up “accordion-style” for easy transport.
Gutter thieves generally target vacant homes or those that are in foreclosure so they don’t have to worry about getting caught by homeowners. But they have also been known to steal copper gutters while their occupants are either away on vacation or at work for the day. With copper selling at up to $3 a pound or more, the incentive for such thefts is high.
Many municipalities are trying to crack down on this practice. For example, the state of New Jersey has passed new legislation which is intended to curtail gutter thieves from cashing in on their stolen goods. To accomplish this, lawmakers are placing restrictions on the state’s scrap and metal yards where criminals bring their copper gutters. The new law requires businesses to document and photograph every transaction involving scrap metal (the previous law only required that this be done for transactions involving over $50 or more than 100 pounds of metal). Also, the dealers must wait five days before selling any scrap metal acquired from a trade-in of this nature.
Also, police throughout New Jersey are enlisting the assistance of homeowners to curb the rash of copper gutter thefts. They’re asking homeowners to trim back bushes, add motion detectors around their home, check vacant properties frequently, and secure basement doors. They have even suggested that homeowners paint their copper gutters black to throw off would-be thieves.
However, until the economy improves and/or scrap metal prices drop, homeowners must continue to be vigilant and guard their copper gutters – so they don’t “walk away” and end up in a scrap yard.