West Midlands Police reports "huge fall" in metal thefts - Openreach among the organisations working with them
Rates of metal theft across the region have plummeted following a West Midlands Police crackdown on the illegal scrap trade.
In late 2012 the force was registering an average of more than 350 metal crimes a month – but that figure fell to just 60 a month at the end of last year.
The dramatic reduction is on the back of Operation Steel – a West Midlands Police initiative that sees officers working closely with scrap dealers and coming down hard on any shown to be offering a market for stolen metal.
The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 has created tighter controls around scrap metal sites and collectors who need a licence from the local authority.
Police teams across the West Midlands have carried out spot inspections at scrap yards on the lookout for metal thieves’ favourites like lead stripped from properties and copper cable stolen from telecoms and transport operators.
And scrap metal collection vans have also been targeted during regular action days as Op Steel officers assess the legitimacy of their cargo and run vehicle checks.
Detective Chief Inspector Phil Dolby, who leads Operation Steel, said: “Regular checks of vehicles and scrap sites, along with new legal powers, have helped us combat metal theft and deter thieves.
“Any scrap metal yards operating illegally or found to have taken stolen metal face being taken to court…and that’s helping really restrict the market for thieves and made metal theft less attractive.
“Metal theft is not a victimless crime: thefts from a church or a mosque can be harmful to the community, while stealing cables can cut off the internet, leading to losses of millions of pounds for some companies.
"There is also the public safety element: for example, if manhole covers are removed it could lead to a serious car accident or injury to pedestrians.
“We want to support the industry which is largely very hard working and honourable. But if you are looking to exploit this industry through criminality there is zero tolerance and with our partners we will catch you.”
Cables theft has hit public transport, residents and businesses such as telephone and broadband companies.
Among those benefitting from the fall in crime is BT’s local network business, Openreach, which has worked closely with West Midlands Police and other organisations and deployed a variety of new technologies to beat the criminals.
Bernie Auguste, general manager for security services at Openreach said: “There’s no doubt new laws have had a positive impact, and that collaborative working with West Midlands Police, Crimestoppers and other organisations has played a key part in helping to reduce the number of crimes on our regional network.
“We’re also using new technology more widely, including systems that highlight any unusual activity within our cables. As a result of these and other measures, nationally we’ve seen a significant downward trend in the number of attacks on our network in the past four years.
“While we have many effective security measures that we continually evolve and innovate, cable theft is still a nationwide problem that affects our customers and we will continually to work closely with police to identify and tackle this crime.”
The reduction in metal thefts has been welcomed by West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson.
He said: “Metal theft has a huge impact on its victims. Those responsible have no regard for their targets, with churches, war memorials and people’s homes all hit by those on the hunt for copper and lead. It costs the victims time, money and considerable heartache.
“It also has an effect on the transport network, with thieves stealing metal cables from the motorways and rail tracks.
“Tackling business crime is a top priority for me and I know of several companies that have lost thousands to metal thieves. This news is therefore thoroughly welcome and I want the good work of the Operation Steel team to continue.”
Issued by West Midlands Police press office and BT.
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