This is why we applaud the 11 law-enforcement agencies, encompassing six CSRA counties, for coming together with the FBI to form the area's first "metal task force."
Yes, crooks are often as quick as investors in figuring out where the metals market is going, especially when it's shooting up in price as gold and copper have been doing in recent months.
Gold is not easy for thieves to get their hands on, but copper is. The latter is widely used for air conditioning and other practical purposes. It can be found in nearly every church, school, bank, business and home. Thieves have been taking advantage of this easy access to steal copper by the truckloads, which they then sell to scrap metal or recycling firms.
Richmond County authorities have been working to fashion tougher laws against such thefts -- steel is another metal crooks traffic in -- and to secure the cooperation of businesses that buy the metals. Persons coming in with extra-large quantities of the product are urged to report it to police.
Despite the stepped-up enforcement patrols and procedures, Richmond County's metal thefts are still growing. The worst part is not the copper that's taken -- thieves are lucky to get $100 for it.
It's the damage they do in stealing the copper. It can run to thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. Just ask employees at McClure Investments on Georgia Road. Intruders last week hacked down a section of the firm's wall to get to the copper piping. It won't be cheap to fix.
The area's new metal task force ensures that the thefts will not be seen as simply a local problem, but as a regional problem that can best be combatted by improved communication and cooperation across jurisdictional lines. One of the first steps will be to create a database so the agencies can more easily share information.
Two goals should be accomplished with the help of the other agencies, says Richmond County Sheriff's Lt. Tony Walden. First is to have the recycling centers, most of which are in Richmond County, provide a better description of the metal which is often crushed for scrap before investigators can examine it. Second is to build stronger cases against suspected metal thieves.
Even more effective than having a region-wide task force battling metal crimes would be a strong economic recovery. As a rule, the price of commodities such as gold, copper and steel go up as the value of equities, such as stocks, go down. When the economy gets stronger, that trend should reverse itself.
Between the economy and the task force, the thefts should be more trouble than they're worth.