Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses

The table below summarizes the responses to scrap metal theft, how they are intended to work, under what conditions they should work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Improving Opportunities for Secure but Convenient Storage
#ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
Increasing the Effort Required To Steal Metal
1Hardening scrap metal theft targetsIncreases the effort required to steal metal...government agencies, builders, utility companies, and scrap metal buyers are educated about crime prevention through environmental design and collaboratively increase physical securitySome initial costs may be incurred to secure targets
2Securing vulnerable placesIncreases the effort required to steal metal...private security collaborates with police to perform risk assessments, followed by redesigning locations with enhanced securitySome costs may be incurred to secure places
#ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
Increasing Offenders' Risks
3Identifying scrap metal thievesIncreases offenders' risk of detection...police officers are trained in signs of suspicious activity related to metal theftMay require some specialized training for police officers
4Identifying scrap metal sellersDeters thieves from trying to sell stolen metal to scrap metal dealers for fear of being identified...state legislation requires all dealers to collect and record photo ID information from each sellerPolice may need to persuade some scrap metal dealers to identify sellers; lax scrutiny of IDs may undermine effectiveness; dealers may lose some sales
5Recording and tracking scrap metal transactionsDeters thieves from trying to sell stolen metal to scrap metal dealers for fear of being identified and linked to reported stolen metal...state legislation requires scrap metal dealers to record relevant information related to their purchases, and pay sellers by check rather than cashScrap metal dealers may need help to set up logistics for keeping and sharing records with police
6Putting ID marks on targeted metal productsDeters thieves from trying to sell and dealers from buying stolen metal for fear of being linked to reported stolen metal...potential offenders and dealers know targeted metal is identifiable and it is likely police will challenge them for buying or selling itMay require legislation that requires manufacturers to mark some metal products, or advanced technology to mark them after production; property-marking schemes not generally proved effective
7Conducting sting operationsDeters scrap metal dealers by increasing their risk of arrest for knowingly buying stolen metal...dealers are given opportunities to improve business practices, and police appropriately educate them about legislation related to scrap metal theftMay have unintended consequences such as increasing the demand for stolen metal; dealers may be less likely to cooperate with the police after the police arrest their employees
8Surveilling scrap metal yardsDeters thieves from trying to sell stolen metal to scrap metal dealers for fear of being identified...police challenge suspects when they enter the premisesRisks alienating legitimate customers, which can undermine dealer cooperation; difficult to sustain surveillance for long periods
9Offering reward money for tips on metal thievesIncreases risks of apprehension and arrest to offenders...police market hotlines and rewards to the publicRequires funds; staff administers rewards program
#ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
Reducing the Rewards for Selling Stolen Metal
10Removing attractive targetsReduces temptations for opportunistic thieves and increases the effort for professional thieves to find high-value targets...the targets represent a significant portion of the local metal theft problemChanging the business practices of suppliers and receivers may be necessary, and they may need to be persuaded to do so
11Replacing copper ground wire with copper weldDenies thieves the benefits of high-value targets...offenders are aware that copper targets are copper weld and that copper weld is worth less in resaleRequires the cooperation of utility and construction companies; potential offenders must be informed about the reduced value of copper weld
12Prohibiting the purchase of restricted materialsDenies thieves the benefits of high-value targets, which discourages thieves from stealing restricted materials...scrap metal dealers post conspicuous notices that they will not buy restricted materials, and dealers notify police when attempted sales occurOffenders may try to destroy markings on restricted materials, so dealers should also refuse to buy altered or damaged materials
13Prohibiting cash paymentsDenies offenders the immediate benefits of selling stolen metal and increases offenders' risk of being identified through cashed checks...offenders know they will not receive cash payments before they steal any metalMay require changes in scrap metal dealer business practices to administer check payments
14Increasing the financial incentive to safeguard certain metal productsImproves the guardianship of high-value targets...the financial incentive exceeds the value of allowing metal to be sold for scrapBeer distributors may oppose it out of concern that higher keg deposits will discourage sales
#ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
Removing Offenders' Excuses
15Conducting a public awareness campaignIncreases the guardianship of high-value targets and strengthens social disapproval of stealing metal...the campaign is well designed and carefully targetedPublicity campaigns can be expensive; it may not affect professional thieves' behavior; it is difficult to measure publicity campaigns' direct impact
16Educating stakeholders about their responsibilities in preventing the sale of stolen scrap metalPromotes greater compliance with regulations designed to reduce the theft and resale of stolen metal, and increases the risks to offenders of being denied sales of stolen metal or reported to the police...it is targeted to stakeholders who are generally willing to comply with regulations, but just don't understand themCan be time-consuming and could require enforcement if cooperation is lacking; may require logistical support to promote scrap recycler accountability and reporting mechanisms such as fax machines, cameras, and computer systems
#ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
17Targeting individual offenders  Unlikely, by itself, to reduce overall metal theft
18Enacting and enforcing "tag and hold" legislation  Unpopular with scrap metal dealers; difficult to enforce