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Scrap metal theft on the rise throughout rural Grant County
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It's a bigger problem elsewhere, but someday soon, if prices continue to skyrocket, the theft of scrap metal could become a more serious concern in the area.
So says Grant County Sheriff Keith Govier.
This summer, Govier's department put out a press release telling area residents to watch out for thieves stealing metal items.
Reports of these types of thefts haven't been pouring into the department just yet. But Govier has good reason to be proactive on this front.
"During the summer, we've had maybe a dozen reports, but that's up from almost nothing last year," said Sheriff Govier. "As metal prices have gone up, we have seen an increase."
However, it's nothing like what other states, especially in the south, have experienced.
Supply and demand
Not too long ago, Govier attended a new sheriff's conference that attracted law enforcements leaders from around the country.
There, he encountered a sheriff from Arkansas who revealed that a major concentration for his depart-ment was stopping scrap metal thefts.
"Hopefully, it doesn't get to that point here," said Govier.
Why are criminals tar-geting scrap metal and other materials? The answer lies in the prices for such items, including tin and sheet metal, which last year went for $100 a ton but now fetches $200 a ton.
That's according to Roger Krantz, who owns West End Salvage in Lancaster.
Apparently, other materials are seeing similar price increases. For example, last year at this time, No. 1 cop-per was about $2.55 a pound. Now, it's up to $3.25 a pound, said Krantz.
As far as cars go, what used to go for $135 a ton now goes for $215.
Krantz said that scrap metal prices usually spike in the spring, from February through April. That's when demand is at its highest.
With regard to scrap metal, like everything else, prices rise and fall according to supply and demand. In the spring, a lot of metal items are stuck in the snow or the mud and cannot be extricated until warmer weather thaws them out. That's when more items get shipped to yards like Krantz's.
According to Govier, copper is an item thieves in this area covet.
"It seems like if it's cop-per and it's not nailed down, it's taken," said Go-vier. In fact, over the past two weeks Govier's department has received re-ports of continued copper wire thefts from Alliant En-ergy substations in Platteville and Cuba City, where thieves cut holes in the chain link fence and made off with thousands of feet of copper wire.
Difficult to prevent
It's a common sight in the area to see old trucks loaded with scrap metal and junk heading to salvage yards.
Determining if any of that stuff is stolen is a difficult job.
"It's hard to prove owner-ship, unless the person who reports a theft has proof, like an I.D. number," said Govier.
Still, the amount of re-ports Govier gets regarding scrap metal theft is small.
"I've had a couple of reports about machinery and junk stolen that was just laying about," said Govier. "I had another farmer who had some stuff missing, but he didn't report it. Sometimes, they just consider it junk themselves."
Metal cattle gates are not junk, though. And recently, the Grant County Sheriff's Department has had several reports of gate thefts in the area.
For cattle farmers, this could mean trouble. If a gate is removed, it could let a farmer's animals out loose.
Because gates like these are often far removed from a farmer's field of vision, thieves can take them without being seen. And they're targeting other places, like cemeteries, farms, utilities and construction sites for scrap metal, copper, aluminum and bronze.
It's not an easy crime to prevent. For example, farmers or others living out of town may have a junk pile somewhere on their property that's in a spot hidden from their view.
"They might have some machinery or a junk pile somewhere, and some of that has value," said Govier. "Years ago, it had no value. Now, it might be worth something."
Along with encouraging people to keep an eye out for scrap metal thieves, Govier has another suggestion.
"I would encourage people to look at collecting that stuff and turning it in for cash, so that somebody doesn't steal it from them and get the money themselves," said Govier.