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Public, private sectors tackle copper theft problem

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

As the price of copper continues to rise — more than doubling in the last two years — its theft is also escalating, prompting several local government agencies this week to take a stance against the problem by raiding a number of outlets dedicated to buying the metal without asking for evidence of its origin, as required by law.

In a joint operation, representatives from the Telecommunications Regulatory Board, the San Juan Municipal government, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Puerto Rico Telephone, and the Puerto Rico Police Department’s recently created Collections Center Investigation Division, hit Santurce Metal & Bag Co, in San Juan, resulting in the owner’s arrest.

In the collection center, the police seized more than 12,000 pounds of copper the owner — whose name was not disclosed — could not document. It is the second time he has been detained since early November for the same violation. Two other individuals collecting copper at their homes without authorization were also arrested in the same sweep.

Growing, expensive problem
Copper theft is a rising worldwide crime — resulting from increasing prices and high demand for the metal — affecting mostly transportation, communications and electricity networks. While the amber-colored metal is attractive among thieves, so is brass and steel.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, copper wire theft costs the U.S. mainland almost $1 billion per year.  While the magnitude of local losses have not been tallied, the problem has been escalating for several years on the island, with violations ranging from domestic incidents to major pilfering from companies, resulting in prolonged service outages, millions in losses and in several cases, deaths.

“This is serious. The boom in copper theft and its illegal sale responds to the surge in the price per pound of the metal. A few years ago, copper was paid at .75 cents a pound, now, last week it was paid at $4.15 a pound,” said TRB President Sandra Torres, during the raid.

The jump in the price of copper has prompted grassroots organizations, such as the Washington D.C-based Coalition Against Copper Theft, to bump up their lobbying efforts in Congress for the approval of stricter laws that will somehow help curb the problem.

“Since commodity prices for copper have more than doubled in the past two years, the theft of copper from telephone lines, electrical substations, highway infrastructure and residential homes has grown exponentially,” the Coalition said on its Web site.

The group’s roster of members includes retailers, home builders, electrical contractors and telecommunications service providers, among others.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 29 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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