What Do Copper Wire Thieves Look For?

Copper theft can happen in a unsecured construction site or a patrolled parking lot.

This is the opening to a series on copper theft. How it happens, why it happens, and how to prevent it.

Copper theft comes in different forms and happens in different ways. The most common theft is from new construction projects, vacant properties, and dark light poles. Theft of copper from new construction projects occurs after the crew has gone home. Thieves enter the job site by cutting a lock and opening the gate. Common targets are copper water pipe, large electrical equipment, like transformers and bussing, and, even more common, roles of copper wire waiting to be installed. It is also common to see installed electrical wire ripped out of the walls throughout the project.

Vacant Properties

Vacant properties are also a prime target for thieves, if its a single suite in a strip center to an empty stand alone supermarket. Thieves get into the empty building through a number of access points. Roof hatches are often unlocked with disabled alarms. Alarms can become disabled in a number of ways, but the most common is by maintenance workers dislodging the sensor accidentally. When this happens, this goes unnoticed by the maintenance worker at the time and the store staff down the road. A second access point for thieves is loading dock man doors. When a building is prepared for vacancy, the main loading dock doors are often secured with interior locks of some kind. In large buildings, it is common to have a man door off to the side of the main bay. This man door has a traditional latch and strike-plate, and after many years of use, becomes easy to pry open with a simple screwdriver. Property managers assume these locks are sufficient, when in reality, they can be opened in no time. Any of these access points can attract a thief looking for an easy target.

Underground Runs

Underground runs, in a parking lot or sports complex, are also a common target. The common access points are hand holes of light standards and underground pull boxes. When a thief is looking for a parking lot, sports complex, or school to hit, they look for easy street access, easy access to the copper, low light levels, and long runs between pols. They like the low light level because it is easer for them to hide from patrolling guards and law enforcement. Easy street access gives them easy egress when the job is done. Long runs between poles ensures that the thieves will get the more copper per run and more return on their time. When choosing a target all of these factors are important, but one of the largest factors is access to the copper. By this, I am talking about the pull box covers and the hand hole covers. A standard pull box cover is lifted off the box in seconds, exposing the spiderweb is large gauge, expensive to replace, wire stretching across the property. Similarly, most hand hole covers can be removed without any tools. An oversized, thin cover can be bent, and pulled out of the pole. Even a OEM cover, fitting the hand hole exactly, can be removed in seconds with an straight blade screw driver. Thieves drive thought the property during the day, getting an idea of the property, then return that night and go to work.

Copper Wire Replacement

When the sun rises, the cost to repair can become astronomical very quickly. Replacing uninstalled rolls of copper, though costly, is easy. Replacing wire stolen form undergrounds can prove to be difficult. In a best case scenario, a contractor can snake the conduit between poles, and pull in new wire. Unfortunately, it is common for old and brittle underground conduit to be damaged when wire is ripped out. When this happens in a parking lot, asphalt needs to be removed and a hole dug to repair the damage, if, that is, the exact point of damage and rout of the run can be found. If not, a new trench is dug, new conduit is laid,  and new pavement poured. After all that work, and costs, the parking lot lights are finally working again. Now the thieves know that new wire is in the ground, the runs are clean, and the pull will be easy. It is far to common for a property to be hit within a week of repairs being made.

There are a number of ways to prevent copper theft from the beginning. Check out our next article, “How to secure Copper in your parking lot”. We are working on it now, and it will be posted soon.

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