Incidents of copper theft have skyrocketed in recent months as the price of the ductile metal continues to significantly increase in value.
For example, thieves recently ransacked 8 air conditioners in an apartment complex in the city of Mobile, Alabama, making off with $800 worth of scrap metal and causing $38,000 worth of damages.
"We've had copper robberies since forever," Christopher Levy of the Mobile Police Department told Reuters. "Still, we've seen a [definite] spike so far this summer."
Indeed, a 2010 U.S. Department of Energy study on copper wire thefts notes that since the beginning of the 2004 spike in copper prices, theft and value of the metal have been directly linked.
Michigan utility company DTE Energy (DTE.N) confirmed thefts costing the company $10 million in 2007, while Pacific Gas & Electric Company reported more than $1 million per year in damages.
A number of states (33) have passed laws to prevent the rash of copper thefts, with South Carolina being the most recent after approving legislation in June.
"This was a huge communitywide problem," Minority Leader Harry L. Ott Jr. of the South Carolina House of Representatives explained. "We wanted to take the incentive to steal out of the equation."
Copper is valued by both thieves and legitimate entities as it is an effective conductor of electricity, works for almost all types of wiring and is employed by most utility companies.