The "Scrapped" blog has recently posted a new essay "Why Do We Only Notice Metal When It Hurts?" by Luke bennett, Senior Lecturer, Department of the Built Environment, Sheffield Hallam University (UK). Here is an excerpt:

"What we see in metal theft is an inversion of normal regard of ‘things in use.’ To return to our example of earlier, a hammer is normally regarded as tool (if it is thought of at all). It is a single ‘thing,’ and it exists to be used on occasion as a device. It has value derived from its functional utility that is greater than its component value. Only when it falls out of use – i.e. when it becomes worn out or broken – should any attention turn to its other value, its commodity (i.e. exchange) value...In metal theft, we see the raw ascendancy of an exchange value mentality, and in the public backlash (and glimmer of an enhanced appreciation of use of metallic elements in infrastructure) we see (hopefully) a re-assertion of use-value."

Click here for link to the essay.
The San Francisco Call reported the following on this day in 1907:

“James Cooper, William Sweeney and Thomas Flynn were arrested at Fourth and Berry streets after a fierce fight, locked up, and charged with stealing copper wire from railroad and telephone companies. Detectives regan and O’Connor made the arrest and are trying to connect the trio with the killing of policeman John Cook several weeks ago when the latter attempted to arrest copper thieves.”

On January 30, 1826, the Glasgow Herald (Scotland) covered the recent recovery of a sackful of stolen lead:

"Of late, very extensive depredations have been committed upon the property, not only of the Glasgow and Cranstonhill Water Companies, but of the inhabitants in every quarter of the town, in the theft of pipes, stop-cock covers, and other articles of lead, cast-iron and other metal. The servants of the Companies and others interested have, in consequence, been upon the alert; and on Thursday forenoon, one of them detected a man carrying a sackful of lead, which upon being turned out, was found to consist of a dozen lead weights, a variety of pieces of lead pipe, sheet-lead, and pieces of lead of various descriptions. The man stated that he had been employed by a brass-founder to carry it from the premises of a broker and rag-dealer. The brass-founder stated that he had bought it from tis person that morning, at the rate of 18s. per cwt., but the lead merchant denied this, or that he had dealings with the brass-founder; till, learning that the brass-founder had told the whole transaction, he admitted the sale, and gave a "so and so" account of the manner in which he had acquired the property. Some of the articles were identified by the servants of the Glasgow Water Company; and the lead merchant, after undergoing an examination before the sitting Magistrate, in the Council Chambers, was committed upon a charge of reset of theft. The lead weights, we understand, have each the inital letters, D. M. & Co., and are numbered."

On this day in 1899, it was discovered that thieves had stolen a mile of heavy copper wire recently strung by Western Union Telegraph between Omaha and St. Paul. The line had just been completed before going dead. Linemen discovered that thieves had climbed the poles and cut off the wires at the insulators.
In January, 1916, claim agents for the Puget Sound Electric Company, investigating a head-on collision between two trains near Seattle, discovered that a large section of copper wire in the signal system had been sawed off. It was believed the wire had been taken to sell as scrap. The theft put the rail signal system out of commission. Fortunately, the trains were moving relatively slowly when they collided, so the accident was not as serious as it might have been.

In 1909, three members of the New York Harbor Police arrested three youths as river pirates and locked them up on petty larceny charges. The New York Daily Tribune reported:

“The arrests were made in a shanty near Second avenue and 129th street after they had been trailed from a boat that had been stripped of copper sheathing under the Willis avenue bridge.

Officials of the New York, New Haven, & Hartford Railroad have complained that river pirates were stealing copper from their Harlem River floats, and police say that others have complained of the activities of the so-called pirates. Last night the three members of the harbor police concealed themselves near the Willis avenue bridge, and they assert they discovered the three youths in the act of ripping copper from a boat under the bridge.”

BBC recently ran a 30 minute podcast on metal theft and the scrap trade in the U.K. From the website:
"Andrew Hosken explores how stolen scrap is 'laundered' into the legitimate system, visiting Walsall in the West Midlands where the 'Tatters' have been rag and bone men for generations. The tradition of cash based exchange means sellers of stolen scrap are virtually impossible to track down.
It's now emerging that more sophisticated criminals are involved in large scale theft and moving scrap around the country. Local authorities feel powerless in the face of weak legislation, but the legitimate industry calls for better enforcement."
Click here for a link to the podcast.
Agenfor Italia has posted on its website a "Preliminary Final Report" on metal theft in Europe. The almost 200-page report provides a rather comprehensive and comparative look at metal theft in Italy, U.K., Bulgaria, Spain, and Greece.  Visit our Research & Reports page for the link to the report. The report is in English.
Luke Bennett, with Sheffield Hallam University (UK), has recently posted a follow-up to his 2008 article, “Assets Under Attack,” published in Environmental Law and Management (v. 20, pp. 176-183). “Metal Theft: Anatomy of a Resource Crime” covers an array of topics, including metal theft types, distribution of the crime, the likelihood of a continued metal thefts for the near future, and prevention.

Click here for a link to the paper on the Sheffield Hallam University website.