Copper Theft Threatens U.S. Infrastructure
Last April, when tornadoes were threatening Jackson, Mississippi, many residents were not alerted to the severe weather because five tornado warning sirens didn’t work. The reason: the sirens’ copper wiring had been stolen.
A month earlier in Polk County, Florida, nearly 4,000 residents were left without power after thieves stripped copper wire from a transformer at an electric company facility. Estimated losses: $500,000. Not to mention the homeowner hassles.
Individually, these isolated crimes cause big enough headaches of their own. Taken together, however, they present a fairly significant problem for our country—a threat to public safety and to U.S. critical infrastructure.
We know…because we’ve done our homework. More and more since 9/11, we’re using intelligence to get our arms around emerging threats at the national level—not just when it comes to terrorism, but also in the criminal arena.
In this case, a recent criminal intelligence report scoped out the problem and is driving new solutions. Among the findings:
The fact that most copper thefts involve a relatively small amount of money, often take place in rural areas, and are investigated by local law enforcement agencies helps explain why, until recently, the implications of these crimes fell below the radar of federal law enforcement.
The FBI intelligence analyst who wrote the report spoke with nearly 150 people from local and state law enforcement and with officials from railroad and energy companies. “Everywhere I went,” she said, “someone had something to say about the problem of copper theft. But nobody had the big picture.”
Now we do and are developing solutions. Several informal task forces between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies have been established to combat copper theft, most notably in Nevada. In one such case, they are charging a copper thief with a more serious federal statute that can carry up to a 20-year sentence.
There is still a lot of work to be done, our agent acknowledged, but now, the serious issues surrounding copper theft are known and being addressed.