Copper is sometimes described as poor man's gold. The material is malleable, non-corrosive and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, which means it has many applications - from piping and electrical wiring to consumer goods and building materials.
Sadly, the fact that copper is used so widely means thieves typically have easy access to the material and steal it for scrap money. Building sites are common targets, but criminals can find copper in many commercial environments, which is why investing in sophisticated video alarm systems is so important.
According to Queensland Police, state-owned energy distributor Energex reports approximately $2 million worth of copper thefts from worksites every year. These crimes don't just affect the company; they can also contribute to rising prices, as businesses are forced to pass the related costs onto consumers.
The effects of copper thefts
A 2012 report from Queensland's Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC), which has since been renamed the Crime and Corruption Commission, said copper theft is largely an opportunistic crime.
Nevertheless, the CMC highlighted a range of wide-reaching effects that stolen copper can cause, including disruption to key services such as water and electricity. There is also a risk of electrocution to offenders trying to take copper wire that is being used for electrical wiring.
Paul Ryan, secretary of the Australian Metal Recycling Industry Association, told the ABC that scrap metal buyers are often warned when copper is stolen in the area.
"A lot of recyclers will look at material and know that it's the product of off cuts from a factory ... and highly unlikely it's come out of a back shed," he explained.
However, he admitted that copper theft is a difficult crime to police. Therefore, businesses should increase security measures to ensure they are protected against thieves.
Preventing copper theft
The CMC report offered businesses various tips to reduce the chances of copper theft having an impact on their operations. For example, companies should consider marking copper with identifying grooves or microdots to make stolen material easily traceable. Setting up a hotline to report suspicious activity around worksites could also help.
Increasing security is particularly important, with the CMC recommending the installation of security cameras and alarms, as well as hiring security patrols.
Modern video alarm systems are able to sense motion in the vicinity, which activates a camera to record potential criminal behaviour. The footage is then forwarded to a command centre where an operator can view the incident and decide whether they should notify the police.