Copper develops a green patina when exposed to air and water. When exposed to the black market, it turns another shade of green: money.
Enterprising thieves have ripped copper gutters and downspouts off
several North Shore properties recently, including 16 buildings in Lake Forest and the train station in Lake Bluff (one of the ripped-off downspouts is shown in the photo at left).
Lake Forest Deputy Police Chief David Fields said there is no pattern to the thefts, other than that most of them occurred on week days rather than weekends. Five took place in the morning, eight were in the afternoon and evening, and three happened over night. Eleven of the thefts occurred at houses that were vacant or under construction; three occurred at churches, one was at a funeral home and one was from a detached garage.
In Lake Bluff, downspouts valued at $2,400 were stolen in August from the Lake Bluff train station. And in Libertyville, thieves hoisted 280 feet of copper gutters and downspouts from the David Adler Cultural Center in late July, and
40 feet of copper gutters and downspouts from the Civic Center in early August, according to the Daily
"People will steal anything," said a spokesman for Suburban Scrap Metal
in North Chicago, which pays $3.09 per pound of clean copper, down from $4 a year ago. "We stopped buying copper downspouts and gutters
from the public because it was a problem." He told GazeboNews the scrap yard will only
purchase those materials from building contractors, and it will only buy
copper wire from electrical contractors and manhole and sewer covers
from sewer contractors. Anything over $100 requires identification.
But many scrap yards look the other way. "The guys take metal to recycling yards and get paid cash on the
spot," said Bert Sandlin, general contractor with North Shore Construction Management. "I'm told they don't ask for IDs or where the metal came from." He saves scrap metal for one of his crew members, but sometimes the guys fight over it. On a job last summer, demolition workers scrambled to get 60 feet of 1/2-inch copper baseboard pipe from an old house that was being remodeled. The value of the copper: $30.
Lake Bluff Deputy Police Chief David Belmonte said police are not
sure if the recent downspout crimes are committed by a group of thieves, a single copper
caper, or by copper-copping copy-cats. Nor are police
sure if copper is the only metal being snatched and sold on the black market. “We’re
working with other departments to see if it’s part of another trend other than
just copper,” he said.
Lake Forest's Deputy Police Chief Field said people who own copper gutters should be vigilant about checking them, and that they should take seriously any noise that might indicate someone is removing their gutters. Residents should call the LFPD at 847-234-2601 or the LBPD at 847-234-2153 (or 911) if they are suspicious of anyone who is removing copper gutters. "If they can get a description of the people and any vehicle involved, or the license plate, that information would assist the police in the investigation," he said.