Copper Theft Affects Us All – Three Perspectives on the Issue of Copper Theft in Canada (1/3)

The Canadian Electricity Association (CEA) – the voice of electricity in Canada – is set to release its policy paper on copper theft on Monday March 3, 2014. The paper, Copper Theft from Canada’s Electricity Infrastructure: Dangerous, Expensive and a Threat to Reliability, highlights the serious impacts of copper theft and outlines four detailed recommendations to deter the theft of copper across the country.

CopperTheftPaper

In preparing for the policy paper, CEA spoke with people from across the country including security experts in the electricity sector, security personnel, law enforcement and government officials. In speaking with these individuals, it became evident that copper theft affects us all and is a serious issue in Canada. The theft of copper from electricity infrastructure puts the safety of the perpetrator, emergency first responders, and local residents in danger, costs the electricity sector and other sectors significantly, and jeopardizes the reliability of the electricity Canadians and businesses count on each and every day.

To highlight how serious this issue is, we interviewed three individuals who outlined their experience with copper theft. Below is the first of these interviews, this one with Jason Bobrowich, Staff Sergeant with the Calgary Police Service.

F.B.: From your standpoint, why is copper theft an issue?

J.B.: Copper theft transcends far beyond the actual material theft of wire, cable or pipe. The financial impact of stolen material, replacement material, repair costs and financial losses due to work delays is very obvious and costs Canadian industry, and subsequently the public, tens of millions of dollars per year.

By far the largest issue related to copper theft is public safety and the deadly dangers that criminals cause when deliberately targeting locations where live electricity is present. For years, criminals have viewed copper theft as low risk and high reward, with little to no consideration for the dangers they create. Such attacks put first responders, work crews and members of the public at risk of serious bodily injury or death.

CopperComponentsGraphic
Above is an illustration that shows the components of a distribution pole, including copper conductors.

When critical infrastructures are attacked for copper, the public safety risks also extend to everyone who relies upon the reliability of transportation systems, electricity and telecommunications. In the past, copper thieves have disrupted and even disabled critical infrastructure. These kinds of service interruptions can potentially be catastrophic during an emergency situation.

With no sign of a downturn in the commodities market with respect to copper prices, criminals will continue to target any facility where copper may be present and accessible. This means continued attacks on construction sites, critical infrastructure locations and buildings under construction with live electricity is likely to occur. This, in turn, will continue to create very real dangers of high voltage electrocution for any person coming in contact with the exposed live electricity during or after a copper theft.

EPCORKitchenCleaver
The Kitchen Cleaver: The tool of choice in copper thefts, despite the fact that it is extremely dangerous and never works. The kitchen cleaver above was used at an incident an immediately melted (source: EPCOR Utilities Inc.).

F.B.: What is the most serious copper theft incident you have witnessed or heard about?

J.B.: In Calgary there have been two reported deaths (2008 and 2013) directly related to copper thieves attacking critical infrastructure locations where live electricity has been present. In both incidents, the criminals came in direct contact with live electricity during the commission of the offences. The first incident was discovered by a civilian passerby and the second incident was discovered by a responding work crew. Both these incidents created significant risks of high voltage electrocution to members of the public and first responders.

These incidents, while tragic, speak to the lengths that offenders will go to in order to steal copper. There are very few property crimes where offenders will immediately put themselves at risk of death in order to commit a crime.

CopperPrice
The above graphic notes the significant increase in the value of copper over the past 13 years (source: InfoMine).

F.B.: Do you believe Canada needs to take further action on copper theft?

J.B.: With the price of copper skyrocketing almost 400 per cent over the past decade, the copper theft crime trend has spread worldwide, whether it be Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia or North America. Canada has been, and continues to be impacted by copper theft, both financially and from a public safety aspect on a daily basis. The crimes related to copper theft in Canada are the same crimes being committed across the globe. Based on the experiences of the Calgary Police Service, the criminals are becoming more and more coordinated in their efforts to steal larger amounts of copper over extended periods of time. In spite of industry and law enforcement working together to deter and disrupt criminals from targeting critical infrastructure locations for copper, the attacks continue across Canada.

On a national level, the continued targeting of critical infrastructure locations in order to commit copper theft must continue to be taken very seriously. Any copper theft at a critical infrastructure location can immediately create both seen and unseen public safety risks. On a larger scale, this may lead to national security threats. While this is a broad stroke statement, action on a national level could initially include the analysis of the copper thefts across Canada to understand the complete crime trend. Based on the analysis of the information, it may be pertinent to review current property crime laws in Canada in comparison to the significant public safety risks created by copper theft at critical infrastructure locations.

Check back this afternoon for insights from the Honourable Ron Cannan, Member of Parliament for Kelowna-Lake Country, British Columbia, and Ron Gentle, Chief Security Officer at Hydro One, as they share their thoughts on copper theft.

UPDATE: Click here to read the interview with the Honourable Ron Cannan, and here for insights from Ron Gentle.

And be sure to visit electricity.ca on Monday, March 3, 2014, to read CEA’s newest policy paper, Copper Theft from Canada’s Electricity Infrastructure: Dangerous, Expensive and a Threat to Reliability.

If you are interested in attending the paper launch on Monday, March 3, 2014, from 6:00 – 8:00pm in the Commonwealth Room on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, email rsvp@electricity.ca.

Francis Bradley is Vice President, Policy Development at the Canadian Electricity Association.