Fighting the copper theft epidemic

Businesses seek solutions from the security industry for an ever-increasing problem


Another video surveillance company applying their solutions to aid businesses in their ongoing struggle against copper theft is Arteco. Arteco's Intelligent Video System (IVS) is a video analytics solution that uses surveillance cameras to create a "virtual perimeter" around a given location, according to Steve Birkmeier, vice president of Arteco.

Birkmeier said they generally use around four to six surveillance cameras at a facility to create this virtual perimeter, which is usually about five to 10 feet off the fence line. After that perimeter is established, the IVS is tuned to filter out objects other than people.

"You're not looking for the dog or perhaps the deer that may wander up to the fence line. What we're looking for is something the shape, size and orientation of a person," Birkmeier said. "Once that gets into the zone, it triggers an alert."

A video of the suspected metal thief is subsequently sent to a monitoring station where someone verifies whether or not the intruder is a human and then responds appropriately.

As with Jentoft, Birkmeier said that the development of copper theft solutions has come mainly from the requests of consumers, who are desperately seeking a way to reduce their losses

"For the large part, this is much more customer driven than industry driven," he said. "This is something we're hearing more from the consultants' side, who are dealing with the utilities, who have really just come to a point of frustration on how (they) can deal with this. We get more direct requests for presentations on our equipment, proposals on our equipment from end users than any we do from just about any other vertical market out there."

Despite efforts to crack down on recyclers who knowingly purchase stolen copper by state legislatures and attempts by utilities and other businesses to in some way brand their metal equipment, Birkmeier believes that those measures are not adequate enough to address the crime.

"Our major concern with both of these issues is that they're both very reactive in nature. The damage has already been done, there's already been the potential for someone dying or being harmed, the power is being knocked out for thousands and (there is) the creation of a very dangerous working environment for utility workers," Birkmeier said. "What we try to do with our products is much more from a proactive side."

Those businesses interested in implementing an IVS can expect to pay between $3,000 and $15,000, according to the Arteco vice president. A four to six camera system would be about a $5,000 to $6,000 investment, Birkmeier said. Existing surveillance infrastructure can be used in many circumstances. Birkmeier notes that the Arteco IVS has been implemented by numerous businesses all over world, including various electric and water utilities.

Securing the recyclers

Though they are often pointed to by law enforcement officials and others as being part of the problem, metal theft has also negatively impacted recyclers.

According to Mike Oliveira, director of information and systems technology for the David J. Joseph Company, which operates more than 50 scrap recycling facilities across the country, copper theft has cost them tremendously in man hours and security purchases.

"All of the municipalities in which we have our facilities in, there's been a lot of pressure from local police to crack down on non-ferrous metal theft, Oliveira said. "What's come out of that is, basically, you've got a lot people who are stealing various pieces of metal from different places, maybe from parks, businesses or wherever. The police have to research those incidents and find out where the metal went."

Oliveira estimated that the company loses a total of between four and six hours of productivity from employees per week at each recycling facility due to the amount of time it takes for them to work with police to track down suspected thieves. That pales in comparison, however to the amount of security upgrades they've had to make.

"Really the cost has been in implementing all of the technology," he said. "We've bought fingerprint devices, which range anywhere between $500 and $1,000, we've bought signature capture, which is between $350 and $600, and we've put in a host of cameras."