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Making a dent in metals theft.

AT A REMOTE ELECTRICAL SUBSTATION, thieves neatly cut open three large transformers with a portable acetylene torch. They remove the copper windings, carefully avoiding energized lines. The result: $70,000 in losses. * Thieves remove vital support braces from an aluminum electric-power transmission tower. The tower buckles and falls, bringing the high-voltage lines down with it. The result: $100,000 in losses. * While attempting to remove copper from a commercial transformer, a perpetrator is electrocuted when he touches energized circuits.

These are not isolated cases. Copper, aluminum, brass, and other metals are vital components for many industries in such uses as electric power delivery, communication equipment, and support structures. Each year utilities, mining companies, and other businesses attribute millions of dollars in losses to the theft of those metals.

In many cases, the damage inflicted on a facility costs much more to repair than the actual value of the stolen metals. The loss of productivity, the loss of reliability in customer service, and the potential liability arising from the death or injury of a thief all add up to a serious risk that corporate security departments must address.

Realistically, these losses cannot be eliminated completely. Many sites are unstaffed and unguarded and are located in remote or high-crime areas, making them vulnerable to attack. Compounding the frustration for investigators, the physical evidence is sometimes destroyed by company personnel trying to restore service promptly. And more often than not, the stolen materials are impossible to trace. All these factors contribute to making the theft of industrial metals one of the most difficult types of cases to bring to a successful conclusion.

What can be done about this persistent problem? The solution is to block the conditions that make crime possible. By eliminating or blocking at least one of the conditions, a company can reduce its probability of being victimized.

To steal industrial metals, a perpetrator must believe the following:

* He or she has the ability to commit the crime. The offender needs access to appropriate tools, general know-how, and in many cases trusted confederates to assist in the offense.

* He or she has the opportunity to commit the crime. The offender needs the ability to get into and out of a facility undetected with little risk of injury. He or she must be able to pick the time of attack.

* He or she can benefit from the fruits of the crime. To convert the metals into a more usable resource--cash--the offender must know where stolen metals can be sold with no questions asked.

What follows is an approach to reducing losses associated with the theft of industrial metals. The approach is based on the idea of blocking the conditions necessary for that crime to be committed.

Liaison: the task force. Criminals do not adhere to territories or boundaries. Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies, private security investigators, and private companies normally do. The result is a breakdown in the exchange of much-needed information.

Criminal investigation has historically been hampered by a lack of communication between different groups of investigators, who are often pursuing the same offenders. Investigators who are willing to assist each other in major crimes seldom inform each other about routine cases they encounter. The reluctance to distribute information is not a turf issue but a result of the large volume of cases investigators handle.

To overcome this inherent drawback, representatives from industry, law enforcement, prosecution, and relevant legislatures can form an association to target the investigation of industrial metals thefts. Such an association or task force can be an effective catalyst in the attack on such thefts.

The purpose of the task force is to exchange ideas and information and to devise and implement solutions to whatever impedes the investigation of metals theft. The task force also helps focus interest on identifying and prosecuting the perpetrators of that crime, and it serves the community by administering a public awareness program to elicit the support of citizens.

Task force members should frequently exchange intelligence through meetings or regular reports. That information should include outlines of the latest offenses, suspect and vehicle descriptions, modus operandi, and other characteristics that may point up similarities between criminal incidents. The information used to compile the intelligence reports can be taken from local police reports, which are funneled to a designated law enforcement representative on the task force.

Public awareness: synergy. The task force should solicit cooperation from the public and incorporate that cooperation into its strategic plan. Public information spots on local radio and television stations, as well as advertisements in local newspapers, heighten public awareness of the problem of metals theft. The information should also teach citizens that as consumers they are the ones who ultimately pay for losses through higher prices for goods and services. A community esprit de corps can encourage the public to report any thefts or suspicious activity they may be aware of.

Another method of encouraging public participation is to provide citizens with a hot line for reporting thefts they witness or any other information they have concerning a theft. Any of the companies or agencies participating in the task force operation can coordinate and cover the hot line.

Scrap metal dealers: cooperation. Though many states and cities have laws or ordinances governing the sale of scrap metals, occasionally the laws are not strictly obeyed or enforced. Even if a dealer follows the prescribed guidelines, the seller is sometimes able to sidestep the effort by furnishing false identification, switching tags on his or her vehicle, or using other tricks to escape identification.

When doing so is feasible, investigators should visit scrap metal operations and establish a rapport with the dealers. Doing so is especially important in jurisdictions with little or no regulation of the scrap metal industry. If a dealer is assured that he or she will be reimbursed for metals that are recovered and therefore will not sustain a loss, the dealer usually will offer assistance.

Due to the enormous volume of scrap metal produced as a by-product of some industries, dealers who win bids on large lots of metal can generate substantial income by the sale of those materials. Generally, companies maintain an approved list of dealers who are allowed to bid on salvage materials. Just as easily as a dealer is put on the bidding list, he or she can be removed from the list. In most cases the possibility of losing income is persuasion enough to convince uncooperative dealers to collaborate with a victim company.

Posters and fliers with photographs of the various forms of metals likely to be stolen can be distributed to scrap metal dealers. They are a splendid means of educating the dealers. Also, rewards proportionate to the value of the recovered metals can be offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of offenders.

Legislative action: mutual benefit. Lawmakers should be made aware of the extent of metals theft and its effect on consumers and voters. Local and state legislation can be drafted to benefit affected companies and assist law enforcement agencies without placing undue hardships on scrap metal dealers. The key ingredient in such legislation is mutual benefit.

If the guidelines and the legislative bill are kept focused and simple, not only will the bill have a better chance of passing into law in a timely manner, but it will also be much easier to enforce. Such a law should contain the following fundamental provisions:

* The dealer must identify the seller by requiring a driver's license or some other positive identification, and the identification information must be recorded on the sales ticket. No transactions should be made with sellers who cannot provide positive identification.

* The dealer must record the seller's vehicle registration information on the sales ticket.

* The dealer must hold metals purchased from individuals for at least 48 hours before selling them, trading them, or otherwise causing them to leave his or her possession.

Other requirements can be added to the bill if they are found relevant by the task force, but simplicity is definitely a key issue.

The task force can lobby for the bill, but support from the community is equally important. By asking law enforcement officials, representatives from the judicial system, and business leaders to contact lawmakers and inform them of their support for the bill, the task force can markedly improve the bill's chances of passing.

Follow-through: aggressive prosecution. To a large extent, the administration of justice depends on the willingness of the victim to prosecute. By demonstrating an intent to prosecute, companies build a positive reputation in the courts and a deterrent to would-be offenders in the community.

It would be unfair to encourage the community and its leaders to rally around the companies' cause and then refuse to follow through by actively and aggressively pursuing prosecution of the offenders. Local, state, and in some cases federal prosecutors and judges must be convinced that a company, when victimized, will fulfill its obligation as a citizen of the community.

A campaign to reduce the losses attributed to industrial metals theft can be a positive influence on a company's performance. However, like any other proposal to reduce losses and provide reliable services, curtailing metals theft takes planning, organization, and cooperation between the public and the business community.

George Knight, CPP, is staff investigator at Alabama Power Company in Birmingham. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:theft of vital metals in industrial equipments
Author:Knight, George
Publication:Security Management
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Faxpionage!
Next Article:Safeguarding our students.

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