Halting an epidemic

Copper theft further worsens areas stricken by foreclosures.

While perusing local and national news, you can’t avoid hearing about the newest epidemic: copper theft. All the elements are aligned. The demand for the metal is high, driving up prices. And at the same time, a record number of houses sit empty due to the increase in foreclosures. These empty houses host a cache of copper waiting to be wrenched free.

The theft can often cause irreparable damage. The price to repair piping and wiring is costly. The damage can also be more destructive and dangerous than that. Last month a north Minneapolis house blew up after being ransacked by thieves. The gas was never turned off. In north Minneapolis alone, there are more than 500 boarded-up properties and another 800 foreclosures. This is now not only a record number of empty properties sitting empty, it’s also a record number of properties available for copper theft.

In recent years, some changes have been made to catch copper thieves and restrict their ability to sell it. Now anyone who tries to sell copper to scrap dealers has to provide valid identification and their information is stored in a database. This law, which went into effect in August, also takes photographs of the sellers, their loads and license plates in case the material turns out to be stolen.

Minneapolis police have also created a database to track properties that could be potential targets. But even that can be a futile effort considering the sheer number of empty properties.

This copper theft epidemic is a problem for everyone – from neighbors to city officials to police. This kind of theft often goes hand in hand with drug use and weapons. And the damage and threat of buildings exploding is something that can’t go overlooked. Everyone needs to do their part to stop the spread of copper theft. If you see suspicious activity near an empty building, report it.

The theft only further exacerbates areas of the city already stricken by foreclosures.