Scrapping for Dollars: Part 1

By: Sarah Platt Email
By: Sarah Platt Email

So just how big is the scrap metal theft issue in our area? And who is most affected by recent thefts? In “Scrapping for Dollars," NewsCenter 16's Sarah Platt takes a closer look at the scrap metal issues in our community.

From aluminum siding, to air conditioning units, to wiring, piping and yes, even the kitchen sink, thieves are taking just about anything for scrap dollars.

According to those in the scrap metal industry, over the last couple of years prices for precious metals, like copper, have skyrocketed.

Some analysts anticipate the value of certain metals will only continue to go up. That is raising concerns for people who fear the scrapping thefts will only get worse.

"Nothing surprises me anymore,” says Ken Wagner, of Mishawaka’s Garman Electric. Wagner knows more than he wants to about scrapping thieves. They have stolen air conditioning units from his business not once, but twice.

"Every time neighbors see the cops out here, they just can't believe we got hit again," adds Wagner.

On several occasions, thieves have also destroyed and stolen the copper wiring that Garman Electric crews had just installed. “That actually costs the contractor about $2300 to repair and the scrappers only got $10 to $15 worth of copper,” says Wagner.

“Obviously, down the road, it's going to start affecting you, the consumer. If you're buying a house, it's going to cost us more to stay in business.”

A quick look at the numbers will show you the demand for precious metals is up. In 2005, a pound of aluminum cans would get you about 57 cents. In 2007, you get 77 cents.

In 2005, a pound of yellow brass was worth about 93 cents. This year, the value is at now around $2.00 a pound.

In two years, copper has also doubled its value. In 2005 copper was worth a $1.47 a pound. In 2007, it's worth about $3.34 a pound.

“The amount of money involved is surprising and it surprised me that there are groups that go out together doing this. It's not one individual who goes out and does it,” says Sergeant Jim Walsh, with the South Bend Police.

Walsh says scrapping thieves have grown increasingly bold in recent months, many working in groups to steal.

Police say a dispute over scrap metal likely played a role in the death of four South Bend homeless men in late 2006.

Scrappers are even stealing from the dead.

Randy Schlipp owns South Bend’s Gertrude Street Metal Recycling. “I actually had a guy bring in some small copper doors and I looked at them and looked at them again, thinking ‘I know what these are, I should know what these are.’ Then, about two days later, I got a call from the state police and they said thieves tore the doors off the vaults at the cemetery,” says Schlipp.

On many occasions, Schlipp’s scrap yard has fallen victim to thieves. He recently added an overnight security guard to keep a close eye on things.

And any time stolen property has been reclaimed, Schlipp says his business usually never gets reimbursed. “Most of the time we're the ones that eat it. We paid for it. We give it back to the owner, hoping we get reimbursed, but it's only happened to me once.”

Meantime, police say there are many legitimate reasons why people scrap; whether it is collecting aluminum cans from the street or turning in materials that people already own.

These days, investigators say scrapping thieves are especially hitting vacant commercial and residential properties. They advise owners to be aware of the situation and make sure their buildings or property are secure.

As long as there is a demand for metal, authorities say the threat of getting hit by thieves will not go away.

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