Ferrous Infrastructure Theft on the Rise

City, county, and state governments are warned to be on the lookout for a new wave of material thefts. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI), the national trade association for the scrap recycling industry announced recently that it is seeing an increase in the theft of ferrous (iron and steel) infrastructure metals, such as manhole covers and sewer / stormwater grates in the past several weeks, joining the list of other metal materials that have been targets of thieves for several months.

"Government agencies, police, and the public should be on alert that the metal theft epidemic that we have been experiencing for the past two years has now apparently spread to ferrous materials," said Chuck Carr, ISRI's vice president of Member Services. "The best place to stop a metal theft crime is to stop it before it occurs. Loss of infrastructure metals not only causes a significant financial burden to our communities, it can create serious safety problems for the public at large."

ISRI maintains a Theft Alert System that allows the association to notify scrap yards when material theft is reported to the association. This tool, available free to any law enforcement agency, is vitally important to help recyclers identify stolen material.

"It is nearly impossible to tell the difference between stolen material and legitimate material that comes to a scrap yard unless you know to be on the lookout," said ISRI Chair George Adams, president of S.A. Recycling in Anaheim, Calif. "Despite the recent rash of theft, stolen material makes up a very small percentage of the material that comes to scrap yards each day. ISRI developed its theft alert system to help police and recyclers identify both the material and the thief."

In the past two years, thieves have targeted a variety of nonferrous material -- primarily copper, bronze, and aluminum. ISRI's theft alert system has received reports of stolen materials as diverse as cemetery urns, copper wiring from rural irrigation systems, and bleachers from ball fields. Recently, the system has begun to receive reports of other target materials. In addition to ferrous metal materials, the system has received reports about the theft of newsprint, cardboard, and plastic milk crates.

In addition to its theft alert system, ISRI provides a variety of other tools aimed at reducing material theft. The industry created recommended practices for reducing the risk of accepting stolen materials almost two years ago -- long before the crime became a prominent problem. Those practices include establishing cooperative relationships with police and victims, training police on identifying possible stolen material, working with victims' groups to help reduce the risk of theft, improving record-keeping and taking identification of sellers to help police track thieves and the materials they steal. The association has also become a member of the National Crime Prevention Council.

"The scrap recycling industry recognizes that it is a stakeholder in reducing material theft," Adams said. "We are working hard to be a part of a solution to a community-wide problem."

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