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Copper Theft Prevention
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They Steal- You Pay!

by: Patrick Kevin Quinn, CPP

When thieves steal from Independence Power and Light the citizens and businesses end up paying for it. Thefts of materials and services force utilities to raise their rates to cover the cost

of what is stolen.

Elevated scrap metal prices have led to large increases in the theft of copper wire from electric substations and sometimes right off of the high voltage poles. These thefts not only have an adverse effect on electric service, making outages possible, but put the public and electrical workers at risk of injury or death.

Should a child or an adult touch a live wire they will likely suffer life threatening injuries or death. Likewise, should an Independence (MO) Power & Light (IPL) employee enter a substation and not notice a ground wire missing or that a live wire has been cut and is leaning against a steel structure they could be instantly killed or critically injured.

IPL takes this situation very seriously. Leon Daggett, Director of IPL recently commented, "Concern for the lives and safety of our employees and citizens is always foremost in our minds. Also, with the current economy our customers cannot afford to pay more for their electricity just to line the pockets of thieves."

To deal with these thefts IPL performed considerable research, seeking information from other U.S. and Canadian electric utilities to identify tactics that have proven successful

for them. IPL's goal was to identify tactics that would support their strategy of preventing

thefts from happening in the first place.

So what is IPL doing to protect their customer's hard earned money?

Removed the Profit

IPL removed the profit incentive for the thieves and buyers of stolen copper by replacing copper ground wire in the substations with Copper Clad rod.

Copper Clad rods have nearly the same electric transmission capability as copper wire but consist of a % inch steel rod covered by a thin copper coating. While the price per pound for stolen copper is very profitable for the thieves and scrap dealers, there is so little copper on the Copper Clad rod that the cost of removing it exceeds the resale value. Accordingly most scrap yards refuse to buy it.


Increased the Probability of Arrest

IPL is "branding" its wire and property with tiny microscopic disks about the size of a grain of sand. Each of the disks, called a DataDot, is etched with the words, "Independence Power & Light" and a serial number. The disks are then sprayed on the copper wire and other property in a clear liquid sealer. Police can then find the dots on the wire and read the inscription using small portable microscopes provided by IPL.

Because there is no quick, effective way to remove all of the disks, leaving just one will enable IPL to prove ownership in court. Therefore any thieves or junk yards found possessing stolen IPL property face a greatly increased likelihood of conviction.

Warning the Criminals

In addition to the use of the microscopic disks IPL has posted reflectorized signs in both English and Spanish around each of their plants and substations informing potential thieves that IPL property is marked for police identification. IPL has also spread the word that when thieves are caught they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Working with the Police

By sharing information with the Independence Police Department, in two of the last three attempts to steal copper from IPL, Independence Police officers were able to arrest the thieves in the act. In addition IPD detectives caught and arrested a local scrap dealer buying stolen telephone wire, sending a strong message to Metro scrap dealers and thieves that the City of Independence is not a good place to steal or deal in stolen wire

or other metals.

IPL Return on Investment

Up through 2009, break-ins of IPL substations were occurring 2 to 5 times a month, with each theft costing IPL, the citizens and the businesses between $3,000 and $15,000. After implementing the above tactics in early 2010, the amount of monetary loss that year was cut in half. In 2011, the total number of substation break-ins for the year was down to a single digit.

Accordingly, in 2011 the money that IPL was previously spending to replace copper wire and repair substations and fences was now available to be spent on upgrading older parts of the electrical system and moving electrical distribution lines underground.

What is next?

Independence Power & Light and the Independence Police Department communicate regularly to assess crime attempts and patterns. IPL is prepared to implement additional physical, electronic and psychological safeguards to protect the property of our community and to meet the service expectations of our citizens and businesses.


Patrick Kevin Quinn, CPP is Security Administrator of the Power & Light Department of the City of Independence MO. He is a Certified Protection Professional (CPP), board certified in Security Management. He also holds an Advanced Certification as a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Planner and for over twenty years has served as a judicially recognized Expert Witness in cases involving Security Adequacy and Premises Liability.

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