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Metal thieves in America's cities (nytimes.com)
63 points by gumby 6 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 189 comments

> But the combination of the economic ills and social malaise lingering since the pandemic and soaring demand for metals, especially for copper, has brought this street crime to new levels.

Hmmm. There's something missing from this explanation.

While I don't think these reasons are wrong, we are being gaslit about some of the knock-on effects of our sudden cultural attitude towards our justice system that happened at this time.

Young people don't want to become police anymore and police don't want to police anymore.

Part of the original problem was too many of the wrong kind of people becoming -- or remaining -- police in the first place.

For example, we go through great lengths to ensure that doctors are suited to their job. Why? Because they have the power to kill people with their mistakes or poor judgement.

It's reasonable to apply that same high bar to police, who have much greater latitude in exercising that power, up to and including the power to kill their fellow citizens, than doctors do.

I don't think any young person who likes the idea of being able to walk around with a gun on their hip, being a police officer, anymore than I think any young person who likes cutting people open should become a surgeon.

The original problem is that news consumers and police spend the majority of their time scrutinizing the smallest and most radically terrible segments of each other's populations

I disagree that this is the "original" problem. Police misuse of power has been a problem long before the current era of mass/social media.

I do however agree that it's a problem (it's just an orthogonal one).

Culture is hard to change.

The police in my western town began as a protection racket. Businesses wanted someone(s) to do something about drunks and brawling. So they deputized some bouncers. But they couldn't (wouldn't) pay much. So these newly minted cops got entrepreneurial. Then they branched out into prostitution. /1

Sheriffs in the South started as militia and slave catchers.

Texas Rangers started as body guards and quickly transmuted into a paramilitary unit to hunt and kill Comanche people.

Thru the North East and Rust Belt, the robber barons paid cops to violently suppress labor.


Old habits die hard.


1/ Seattle Justice: The Rise and Fall of the Police Payoff System in Seattle https://www.amazon.com/Seattle-Justice-Police-Payoff-System/...

The solution needs to be some sort of "Teach for America" equivalent for police where non-traditional, college-bound candidates receive funding to be placed in under-served communities.

>Part of the original problem was too many of the wrong kind of people becoming -- or remaining -- police in the first place.

There are always going to be some bad actors in any profession. Being violent to an appropriate extent is part of being a cop. When billionaires fund social media psyops to convince people that their friendly neighborhood cops are out to get them, and they'd be better off without police protection, that distorts public perception of police performance.

Perceived problems with police need to be investigated carefully. Stirring the public into a frenzy every time some cop looks bad on video is harmful to everyone.

>It's reasonable to apply that same high bar to police, who have much greater latitude in exercising that power, up to and including the power to kill their fellow citizens, than doctors do.

No, it's not reasonable to expect police to go through a similar amount of rigor as a doctor. The job just isn't that complex, and there is nothing inherent about possibly killing people that requires a comparable amount of training. If being a cop did require such rigors, we couldn't afford to have police at all.

>I don't think any young person who likes the idea of being able to walk around with a gun on their hip, being a police officer, anymore than I think any young person who likes cutting people open should become a surgeon.

There's nothing wrong with walking around with a gun on your hip, whether you're a cop or not. I get what you're trying to say but there's only so much anyone can do to discern anyone's internal motivations for picking a career. As long as those motivations aren't evil or likely to interfere with their job performance, I don't care.

> There's nothing wrong with walking around with a gun on your hip, whether you're a cop or not.

I happen to think that there is.

If you have a gun on your hip you probably won't shoot anyone with a gun. But the chances of shooting someone with a gun are non-zero. If you don't have a gun on your hip, the chances of shooting someone with that gun are zero. I like those chances better.

(The 2A was good for its time and make sense in the context in which it was written; it has no place in today's world.)

On-duty police fatally shoot about 1,000 people every year.[0] That's in the US. Guess how many on-duty police in the U.K. or Japan fatally shoot every year? [1][2]

[0] https://manhattan.institute/article/fatal-police-shootings-a... [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_killings_by_law_enforc... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_with_annual_...

I always have to think of this one episode of A Touch of Frost I believe where a murdering gunman was on the loose in the UK. And it triggered this big mobilisation where suddenly all the cops had to be equipped with pistols. Because the typical cop would just have a billystick to go on patrol with.

At some point in time this stopped being normal. AFAIK nowadays every cop in Europe has a pistol on themselves. Surely that's not actually necessary ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In such situations it's possible to bring in special police units with guns; that doesn't mean you now have to equip every bobby with one. Thankfully in the UK regular police still don't carry a gun (except for NI, but that's historical), and, unsurprisingly, the number of people killed by police in orders of magnitude lower than the US. And the UK homicide rate is 4 times lower than the US, which proves that having more cops with guns does _not_ reduce violent crime.

Putting aside the politics of this…

If you want to point to a single factor as having / not having an effect between 2 groups you need to account for other factors. You could setup a statistical model.

So to be clear, the fact that policemen in the US/UK do/don’t carry guns and have higher/lower crime rate doesn’t prove anything on its own.

> AFAIK nowadays every cop in Europe has a pistol on themselves. Surely that's not actually necessary ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Once even a small fraction of criminals starts to have guns and use those to kill cops to get away that becomes necessary, yes. Then once cops starts to have guns the criminals stops shooting them as much, the transition is very quick as once police has a gun the criminal risks his life by shooting, while before the police had guns the criminal was perfectly safe using his gun.

This transition happened in most European countries, but not all. And this costs basically nothing, the amount of deaths from police shootings in Europe is minimal even if you include warranted police shootings.

> Once even a small fraction of criminals starts to have guns and use those to kill cops to get away that becomes necessary, yes.

This is false. Police in the UK and Japan don't carry guns. And their violent crime rates are significantly lower than the US where police do carry guns.

Now granted, in the US everyone can carry a gun, so yeah, the police need them too. That's why the root of the problem is the fact that everyone, with minimal checks and balances, has the right to carry a gun and it's embedded into US culture as part of "being American".

Require insurance for gun owners, like we do for vehicles, and the problem largely goes away.

(Hardened criminals and gangs will always find access to guns, as they can in the UK or Japan. That's a separate issue that is conflated with but actually orthogonal to gun control and police carrying weapons.)

> Police in the UK and Japan don't carry guns

Police in Japan do carry guns.

Also police in Sweden and almost all other European countries carry guns, and they have much less levels of violence than USA as well, guns are illegal yet still a very small fraction of criminals have guns. A police doesn't get to decide when they meet a criminal with guns, when they do the police really really need a gun, and they need the protection of the criminal knowing that the police has a gun.

Only a handful of countries in the world has police patrol without guns, the majority of the most peaceful countries on earth still have policemen patrol with guns: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Police_firearm_use_by_country

> friendly neighborhood cops

There's a reason that you think the cops are friendly and other people don't. But the reason is not distorted media consumption. It's because the cops actually treat different people very differently.

Many people who are routinely harassed and abused by police would be similarly surprised to learn that you find them to be so friendly. What seems to you to be an elaborate psyop conspiracy to demonize the police is actually just ordinary people in different social circumstances from you showing what reality looks like in their position.

>What seems to you to be an elaborate psyop conspiracy to demonize the police is actually just ordinary people in different social circumstances from you showing what reality looks like in their position.

No, what I'm talking about is a very well-funded campaign with support from the richest people. They have little interest in you having adequate police protection. They are sabotaging each other and the public at large by making people think the problems with police are far more severe and widespread than they are.

this reads like pure conjecture; more importantly, a motivation is lacking. I don't like wealthly billionaires, but I do know they aren't afraid of the police (which can be paid off), so there's not really a motivation to rally the public to reduce police power.

It's not conjecture, you can see the minions of certain rich people talking about it. Of course these people aren't afraid of police. They have top police protection as well as private armed security. There are many ways to make money from destabilization of cities or countries. For example, you could play real estate in "distressed" areas, bet against businesses that can't possibly stay open in the face of crime, and also fund politicians that claim to have a solution to the problem you are creating.

Have we outsourced parenting and discipline to police and teachers? We’re just burning them out instead of trying to properly raise a family?

It certainly feels that way with teachers but how do we get the data to know?

A few years ago, a friend of mine taught creative writing and literature at a state college. Her class was one of the requirements for the criminal justice program. Just by observing the students, she could tell which ones were in criminal justice. Her observation was that the criminal justice students were, at best, bullies and had no respect for fellow students or teachers.

You're right. We don't have to have cops go through the same rigorous training as surgeons, but at least we should make sure that they are not sociopaths and have empathy and compassion for other beings (the cops, not the surgeons).

There's another problem though: if you only allow compassionate, empathic people to be police, you won't have any police in America. Those kinds of people don't want to be police, especially in a country with so much gun violence and much of the population armed and apparently having sporadic mental problems and where violence is such a normal part of daily life. It takes a "special" kind of person to want to be a cop in that kind of environment.

It's very different in peaceful, gun-free countries.

>It's very different in peaceful, gun-free countries.

You think gun-free countries have no criminals or violence? They certainly do, and it is often far more brutal because individuals cannot defend themselves from groups and knives are everywhere.

Spoken like an American who's never left his country, or even flown on an airplane. I live in a gun-free country, and it's quite peaceful, completely unlike America with all its mass shootings.

You've probably never been to America or shot a gun. I have been abroad to some of the most gun-free places in the world and I'm quite pleased with how we live in the US. There aren't as many shootings as the media would have you believe. The people at the top who cry about guns really just want you to be a helpless sheep. They have an imperative which is to maintain power, even if it costs you your life.

> There aren't as many shootings as the media would have you believe

Regardless of the media (and I agree TV news amplify all this stuff which is why we don't even have TV in our house), the statistics (not generated by the media) show much, much higher rates of homocide, both by individuals and police officers, in the US than any other industrialized country.

Regardless of you how you personally feel, the US is inherently statistically unsafe compared to other industrialized nations, especially wealthier ones like Japan, Switzerland, the Nordic countries, etc.

>Regardless of you how you personally feel, the US is inherently statistically unsafe compared to other industrialized nations, especially wealthier ones like Japan, Switzerland, the Nordic countries, etc.

That may be but I don't think homicide is common in the US, even if it is more frequent than elsewhere. 5 in 100k is not common. I don't believe guns are to blame. I also think there are other cultural factors in play as the US is very culturally diverse compared to Nordic countries or Japan. I would be interested to know the number and severity of drug addictions per capita before considering that.

Even reducing my risk of homicide from 5 in 100k to zero would not change my mind about guns. We need them to defend against all aggressors, even government actors. The police do not have a duty to protect you in the US, and even if they did they cannot be everywhere. People are quick to ridicule the idea that guns can protect you against the government these days but the logic is totally sound and has been proven again and again throughout history.

> People are quick to ridicule the idea that guns can protect you against the government these days

I think what happened in Waco TX showed that having a bunch of guns to protect yourself from the government is 1) ineffective, and 2) a really bad idea.

It made sense in the 1700s but those were different times.

Obviously one family or small group camping on their property cannot stand up to a seige by the government. But has there ever been a revolution without guns since they became common? You can hardly dream of any kind of resistance against real tyranny without guns. It is foolish to think that tyranny is a thing of the past, and that guns might not defend you or at least aid your escape from such a government. People are fighting tyranny around the world right now with guns.

I agree the US is not immune to tyranny—one need look no further than Trump for that , though thankfully the checks and balances of democracy held. My point is that 200 years ago civilians with guns could stand up to a tyrannical government as there wasn’t much else more advanced weaponry that would give the gov an unassailable advantage. Civilians would have no hope of a chance today regardless of how many guns they had. So the main original purpose of the 2A, which was necessary at the time, is no longer feasible. All that remains are the downsides of the 2A.

> we should make sure that they are not sociopaths and have empathy and compassion for other beings (the cops, not the surgeons)

Exactly. And to be clear. I wasn't suggesting that cops go through the equivalent of 10 years of college + medical school. But now they get, what, 2-4 months training, in some cases just straight out of high school? But even more important is the screening -- and that's a lot of what those years of the medical school process does.

>When billionaires fund social media psyops to convince people that their friendly neighborhood cops are out to get them, and they'd be better off without police protection, that distorts public perception of police performance.


You seem to make the point that the problem will be solved with more police, even though part of the cultural attitude you mention vs police has been a direct response to the militarization and brutality, yet at the same time indifference of the police force. The BLM movement was triggered by police brutality, but your take is that we need more and more active police?

It was always a false dichotomy.

The core issue was America needing better and more accountable policing.

"Defunding" the police was an extremist, fringe position that hijacked the situation.

> "Defunding" the police was an extremist, fringe position that hijacked the situation.

I think it sounded extremist and fringe, if you assumed it meant completely gutting their budget and placing police officers on a trebuchet aimed at the nearest shoreline.

But the actual "Defund the Police" proposal tried to shift some of that funding to non-armed responders, to better community services, and other things that have been proven to work better at improving outcomes and preventing crimes than a man with a gun showing up to deal with every conceivable scenario that someone found unpleasant.

Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police

NYT, June 12, 2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/opinion/sunday/floyd-abol...

Do you actually believe this NYT opinion article speaks for everybody on this topic or is that just convenient to the argument you're trying to make right now?

It reminds me of CX debate in high school. It was a pretty formalized thing, and to "defeat" an argument the other team had, all you had to do was come up with some citation to refute it.

Barely mattered what it was, it just had to be Good Enough for a judge (sometimes another high school kid who was grabbed out of the hall) to accept.

This is the "it was only a prank bro" excuse for the idea of "defund the police".

No, defund the police means defund the police... not defund some subsection of policing to fund another new section of policing.

"Defund the police" is as hilarious as it is backwards as a statement.

You're allowed to have your own mental idea of what a slogan represents, even if it doesn't match the varied and complicated reality of multiple people attempting to fix a wrong.

Sure. And the slogan "Trix are for kids" means it's made specifically for adults.

That actually feels like a great example, because adults are, in fact, allowed to eat Trix.

I don't think you understand what slogans are for or what "something for X" means.

no proposal any political side wants will get anywhere without accountable police.

less beating of black men? accountability.

more convictions of thieves? accountability.

more presence in disorderly areas? accountability.

equality before the law? accountability.

Pick anything you want, any political position, and if the cops are unaccountable, its a dead letter. Except for one: no more cops.

"defunding" is, perhaps, the worst political slogan I've heard of in my _life_, as it implies yeeting the cops out of the city, with prejudice. Most people didn't want that. (Some did). So that was a cluster.

I think that all Americans need to step out of their houses and shake hands with their neighbors, look around, and realize we live next to each other, all of us. And we have to make this a society we can all live in, rather than griping online.

No one would even be talking about "needing better and more accountable policing" if "defund the police" as a position didn't shock people who have no reason to fear the police into realizing how dire the situation was for those who do. The "hijack" is walking back a revolutionary ideal to something palatable for the mainstream that doesn't threaten the status quo.

It isn't a false dichotomy, but simply a difference in interpreting what the core issue is. Some believe the police can't be reformed and can't be held accountable, because the core issue is systemic racism and white supremacy, and the only option is to tear the entire system down and rebuild it from scratch around truly anti-racist principles.

Obviously if you don't accept the thesis, you can't accept the conclusion.

I don't know where you got the argument for "more police", but the direct quote from the GP:

> police don't want to police anymore

Seems to contradict that being an argument.

This is true. More work a desk than anything anymore and when they are on patrol or driving too and from the station they try very hard not to look at anything. A horse with blinders on

The courts are a mess, people get 1 overnight and get back out. There are no penalties anymore for crime so we get this.


> Young people don't want to become police anymore and police don't want to police anymore.

For good reasons too! It F**ing sucks dealing with ALL the problems of a city. Ask me how I know!

None of us, first responders, are allowed/empowered to do our damn jobs. We have been effectively neutered by woke activists that think everyone is out to get them. All hell breaks loose when you ask, demand or otherwise force people to take responsibility for themselves and/or own their mistakes.

Believe me, I see it from both sides. We need police who are empowered to do their own jobs.


> All hell breaks loose when you ask, demand or otherwise force people to take responsibility for themselves and/or own their mistakes.

The irony of this statement is that the entire collapse of trust with police in America was refusal for departments or unions to hold individual bad actors responsible. The reactionary response of police unions and the whole "thin blue line/sheepdog" attitude made it clear that also police don't want to take responsibility for mistakes.

The entire collapse of trust with police in America was the media narrative. "Brainwashing", to use a strong term. The overwhelming majority of police were fine the majority of the time. Doesn't make for a very good news headline: "Police carry out their job reasonably today, the same as the past X days."

Speaking of people not taking responsibility:


> The OPA could not sustain any allegations against Belgarde because the four-year deadline for discipline established in the police guild contract had passed.

When police unions decide to protect the bad ones, it obviously reduces their credibility and hence society’s trust in them. Might have worked for decades in the past due to lack of information, but people know this stuff now.

If everything is as clear cut as that article contends, then why do they gloss over the 4 year gap between crime and an attempt to do anything? I would expect some sort of explanation. Pretty much everything has a statute of limitations.

I would rather err on the side of letting the guilty go free than convicting someone wrongly. Due process is more important than any individual crime.

Given the well known corruption and “professional courtesy” within police organizations, I would err on the side of a drunk driver avoiding punishment because they were police. Not only were they driving drunk, but they attempted to evade the police by speeding away. That would have landed anyone else in jail, so there was obviously corruption from the very beginning.

Their subsequent newsworthy act of aggression by the same cop this year also makes me err that way.

Sounds like it was one officers word against another. If there was a corruption aspect to this, I didn’t see proof of where it was. It might look a certain way from our point of view now, but at the time I’m not sure it was so clear.

I very much like the concept of innocent until proven guilty and I want “proven” to be a very high bar.

I didn’t research the details of this specific case, but the point is police unions are known to defend bad people who abuse power.

Also, the guy in the link above also has a 3rd incident in 2015 where he admits to assaulting someone and got a slap on the wrist. Also, it’s 2020, and cops have body cameras and police car cameras, so there presumably is evidence of a DUI. Highly unlikely that another cop pulled him over and cited him for nothing.

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> All hell breaks loose when you ask, demand or otherwise force people to take responsibility for themselves and/or own their mistakes.

But if you're police or some other first response, your job is literally to take responsibility for other people?

It's very hard to help people that don't want to be helped.

> All hell breaks loose when you ask, demand or otherwise force people to take responsibility for themselves and/or own their mistakes.

Said without any irony whatsoever

Could you explain more about how first responders are not empowered at their jobs? I'm mostly curious if you see the cause as something local, or more like national policy that changes your ability to do your job.

I always find it amusing that everyone hates the police but no one hates the firefighters. They both save people lives, yet some are bastards and some are heroes.

Firefighters aren't empowered to rescind your civil liberties. And they're not armed.

They absolutely are empowered to abridge your civil liberties. Firefighters can break into your home, smash out the windows, cut holes in the roof and leave you with the bill without ever asking your permission. Not to mention what they can do to your vehicle it happens to be in the way of their engines. Then they and the city can prevent you from re-entering your home until they consider it safe.

They only have that power when there's an actual emergency, such as a fire. That doesn't happen too often.

Also, whatever power they do have, they don't seem to abuse, because no one ever complains about the firefighters abusing power.

They have the power to declare the emergency, or in Carl Schmitt's terms, the state of exception.

Interesting point. Firefighters don't carry guns, so they can't literally shoot you, but they can probably take your property and run over your dog with just as much impunity as police.

So why is it the police are the only ones who are known for taking your property and killing your dog? Maybe the property-takers and dog-killers are naturally drawn to that profession more?

Maybe if so many people who have been granted significant authority over others, aka "police", hadn't abused their power over a long period of time, to the point of causing significant harm, including death, of presumed innocent people, those "woke activists" wouldn't be calling for limits on those powers.

These woke activists go by the term "community organizers," which is especially ironic considering how dysfunctional they make communities. Multicultural societies are easy prey for them.

> We have been effectively neutered by woke activists that think everyone is out to get them

Do you actually believe that or do you think there are perhaps broader issues at play?

Both can be true.


Blaming the "woke" people and not corrupt police officers that indiscriminately murder people or the system that protects them is pretty telling.

Can we blame both, but not use the term "woke"? Just "activists" is fine.

It certainly makes it easier to ignore the people doing the complaining.

I guess that depends who you want to ignore.

No, because despite how effective the establishment has been at co-opting and poisoning the term, "woke" comes directly from the black activist community, and pretending that legacy and context doesn't exist and isn't relevant to the conversation would be... tone deaf at best?

"Wokeness," in the original intended sense - the sense for which people have given their lives in the streets and suffered the arbitrary brutality of American policing for decades, not the sense that incels and racist shitbags use for irony - is the entire point. As soon as your worldview and vocabulary erase the former and continue to normalize the latter you've become part of the problem.

But what about people with sleep disorders or narcolepsy?

Use of this word could be a microaggression causing them severe mental stress possibly leading to suicide!

And all because you wanted to keyboard social justice warrior! Which, BTW, has not helped, in any way, one person or thing yet and it does cause problems. Also not what this site is for.

You should try to put more effort into expressing intelligence than cleverness, because this is just juvenile.

I agree that the article is ascribing some meaning to the crimes that doesn't exist. It is simply that the offenders found out about this method of making money. Even though it's a pittance. Perhaps a better theory is simply lack of social safety net.

Copper theft is totally a thing in Europe too, in many countries.

First country I find by googling is Germany but copper thieves are stealing cables alongside railroad in France, Belgium, etc.


And it is regularly disrupting trains.

These thieves do not care for the community. They do care about fake Luis Vuitton caps (convinced they're highly stylish with their Luis Vuitton caps and Luis Vuitton manpurses) and the latest iPhone though.

Insane that we are at the level of poverty where deconstructing infrastructure makes economic sense to people. It’s insane the amount of effort and shamelessness people are willing to go through for a few hundred bucks. When you consider how high minimum wage is in LA too, it’s ridiculous they can’t find work instead of going as low as this.

It has nothing to do with poverty, and everything to do with some people prioritizing money for themselves over the externalities.

"If I make $100, and some stranger who I don't know loses $10,000...well, sucks to be that stranger, he should have paid a security guard to watch his wires" is the mindset of a whole load of people in the world.

Hell, I mean, there are people out there who will kill you for your $100 phone if they have the chance.

> It has nothing to do with poverty

Strong disagree.

If the gains are high enough, lots of people who aren't poor will steal.

But if the gains are low, then there's a risk-to-reward ratio that comes into play and, generally speaking, the poorer you are, the high ratio you're willing to put up with.

Really? I'm skeptical, unless you categorize someone stealing to fuel their drug addiction, as "due to poverty." What about people who steal because it's fun or exciting and not boring, like an actual job? I had a Hispanic friend like that once--he didn't even need the money, he stole just because it gave him an adrenalin rush and because of the crowd.

> What about people who steal because it's fun or exciting and not boring, like an actual job?

Sure, there are those people too, but even then the risk-to-reward factor will come into play, it's just that those people are willing to take a higher risk not because of the monetary reward but because of the reward of the "thrill".

You'll always have several categories of people stealing.

Parent's point is that poverty will lower the threshold for some of these categories. People who wouldn't care that much about money if they had enough to get by will get into stealing, not necessarily to get rich but just to get back to a state they're comfortable with.

This concept only works if the poor people risk it for the gains. That's becoming not the case anymore with most theft in the modern world.

>some people prioritizing money for themselves over the externalities

You mean exactly like the employees, execs and shareholders of the big publicly traded companies many people here work for?

But it's evil when the homeless crackhead in your neighborhood smashes your car window for drug money, but not the Google/Microsoft exec who pushes ads with malware or addictive drugs on your kids for a career advancement and a nice house in California, that's just called innovation, where the former person is the looser and the latter the winner of our capitalist system.

Many profitable industries have been built on privatizing the profits and socializing the externalities on the environment, society, people, etc. Oil & gas, mining, motor vehicles, fast fashion, ads, gambling, food, pharma, etc. Usually on less developed countries, and it only makes the news when those externalities finally reach us here in the rich western countries.

This is the core source of disillusionment. It is wrong for both, but it is more impactful to society when corporations do this. Therefore it should be society's priority to raise the stakes of running a corporation, not hand out lazy penalties that continue to incentivize strategic negligence.

More regulation, regular enforcement of law, and more responsibility in general for the people and firms that wield the most influence will prevent many otherwise great citizens from deciding not to play the game of civilized life. IRS getting massive returns from cracking down on wealthy tax cheats is one of many good steps in this direction under the current US administration.

>More regulation

That goes against easy money for corporations.

A large part of the rise in metals theft in recent years is from organized crime increasingly investing in and optimizing the sector.

It's hard to value something you don't have a stake in.

Fewer and fewer people have a stake in their communities and their community's prosperity. Fewer have a stake in the housing market. Fewer have a stake in our institutions working properly. Fewer have a stake in capitalism itself. It's not surprising that these things are slowly becoming devalued. The solution may involve welcoming back more people as stakeholders in society rather than pushing them away.

I suspect you will find that in many cases, people whose brains have been hijacked by chemical dependency may experience some difficulty in behaving as a stakeholder in society. It will often not stack up favorably against feeding that dependency, no matter how much they might favor it in the abstract.

This country has always had a segment of people in chemical dependent desperation since it was founded. The question is, why are we seeing a rise in metal theft? Its not because this population suddenly emerged, nor that they suddenly realized that metal has value as scrap. Its because the prices of metals has increased which creates incentive to fence metals. Theft in this sector is enabled through fences who take this stuff without asking questions.

It's not like selling a stolen bike and pretending it's not stolen. There's just not a lot of good reasons for someone to bring into a recycler an old brass plaque from a city monument or a hundred yards of wire from a bridge. Law enforcement knows this at least and is lenient on the thieves if they help pin the fence.

There have always been thieves and the "they are only criminals because they are victims" line is nonsense. It is a risk vs reward calculation for them and it's not a surprise that the crime is more popular when you reduce the risk with minimal punishment.

>There have always been thieves

And yet countries that aren't as rich as the US and are a lot softer on crime, have a lot less of it than the US. So maybe something is actually wrong in the US at a societal leve, that it has such a higher crimerate.

The minimum wage makes it harder for the low skilled to find work.

Your comments seem to have a theme.

I'm shocked, SHOCKED that commenters have consistent political leanings between comments!

Huh? Minimum wage does not make it harder to find work.

Absolutely it does. How could it be otherwise? If it didn’t make it harder to find work, then why not raise it to some enormous number?

It's not an insane amount of effort, and a lot of people are quite shameless.

I think your conclusion is wrong because you assume "huge risk/effort -> people only do this out of poverty" when it's "almost no risk/effort -> people want a quick hundred bucks".

Level of poverty? Nonsense. More like, level of opportunity given lack of enforcement.

It's not nonsense but neither is what you said. Both things can be true. There is a high level of poverty and large wealth disparity. There is also a lack of enforcement.

when you are hungry, poor and desperate, the lines between shameless, guilt all starting to vanish.

When they put hidden cameras inside packages to catch porch pirates, plenty of thieves have a decent apartment, big screen TV. They’re not stealing groceries, they’re stealing things to fence.

Stealing groceries doesn't pay the electricity bill.

of course it does. you steal 20 deoderant sticks, 3 jugs of laundry detergent, 6 packs of gillete razors, and a couple of 12 packs of RX Bars, and you can fence that for $60-80 in SF. You can easily do a couple of fencing runs a day. conservatively thats $2400 a month if you do 2x runs a day 5 days a week lol. Plenty of people in SF make a living like this. Every couple of months the feds catch a fencing operation selling millions of dollars of stolen items on ebay a year.

Deoderant in particular is incredibly profitable because it sells super well on ebay. Just search old spice deoderant on ebay and look at all of the obviously stolen merchandise.

It's funny though, because it kinda creates tons of jobs. the highly incompetent just steal and sell to fencers, the semi-incompetent buy stolen goods and fence them on ebay, and poor consumers get to buy slightly cheaper goods on ebay. the only people who lose are stores elling goods, and consumers who have to ask salespeople to open the locked up merchandise.

Everyone who isn't a criminal loses because store prices must increase to cover the theft loss.

More likely the retail stores just close because when the authorities no longer enforce the law it becomes impossible to operate a business.

more like "fiending" than "hungry".

Last month while cleaning out a relative’s house, I made my first trip to a metal scrap yard. I had fishing weights (lead), old copper pipes, rolls of electrical wire, broken aluminum chairs - and street signs. I assumed the scrap yard would reject the street sign since, if they would accept it, why wouldn’t people steal them routinely? To my surprise they accepted everything, asked no questions nor asked for ID, and paid cash. The incentives here are clear. Maybe it’s the point of sale that needs closer scrutiny since police can’t guard all the light poles 24/7.

Most scrap yards are run by shady goons who don't care enough to enforce the rules.

"social malaise lingering since the pandemic and soaring demand for metals, especially for copper, has brought this street crime to new levels."

It's interesting that absolutely no mention of changes to policing / prosecution.

Across Los Angeles County, more than 290 fire hydrants have gone missing since January.

In my town we are having electric outages because of this (they call it "vandalism")

"Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez joined Hernandez in opposing the motions, even though he had initially supported the idea. He asked his colleagues to understand that the thefts might be committed by people living in poverty who are pushed into acts of desperation."

A note that the costs to report, schedule, supply, staff and roll a govt truck to do a fire hydrant or street light are not cheap. The poor person will get some money from wiring, but the city will be spending 10x - 100x that to get the infrastructure fixed up - so not sure allowing theft as a result of the pandemic or poverty is the most efficient way to address poverty? Insulated coper wire is about $1.50 per pound to recycle at a metal buyer.

What makes the multiplier even more wild is when you consider the proceeds are probably being used (by the front-line thieves) to buy drugs whose cost is something like 10x–100x higher than the cost of production.

Many (including me) would consider it unethical but I understand the temptation to cut out several layers of middlemen and just have the government hand out drugs.

I replace my HVAC system last month. I did it myself (yes, this can be done with some research!).

I took the old one to a metal scrap yard, inside unit and outside. They made me go back home and cut some stuff apart for "top dollar" (which wasn't worth it really but I did it anyway).

Very surprised at what I received. I had over 200 pounds of "tin" (they called it) which was basically scrap steel. That fetched around $10 at $.04 a pound. The aluminum radiators fetched $.37 a pound coming to nearly $20. The old copper refrigerant lines however fetched around $3.50 a pound (nearly $60) and they were a small part of the whole system weight-wise, but most of the money. The owner got visibly excited when he saw the copper lines so I assume it's pretty profitable on that end too.

Overall I got close to $100 which wasn't worth the work, but it needed to be disposed of anyway. It was also "interesting" as I'd never been in a scrap yard before. Lots of shady looking folks coming in (some on bicycles) while I was there.

The disparity in metals pricing was surprising, with copper being worth more and aluminum way less then I'd thought. Also interesting was it was pretty close to a 10X ratio for each metal. Copper = 10X aluminum. Aluminum = 10X steel.

It's roughly similar to what happened after the fall of the Soviet Union. Power lines were routinely stolen for scrap.

When there is massive inequality (or rampant drug abuse) and inadequate law enforcement, people on the fringes cannibalize essential infrastructure and sacred spaces. Meanwhile, the very rich take advantage of the situation to gain more power and benefits.

It is things like this that make me occasionally think we are in the modern version of the library of Alexandria.

We have the peak of technology and knowledge and yet the core base of the society is rotting away, alas we know how it ended last time. Perhaps we to go the way of the neoplatonists?

When has the core base of society ever not been rotten? I think what is changing now is that people went from a few happy go lucky decades of being flabbergasted that anything bad can happen, to the media pendulum swinging the other way of showing us the ugly truth too much and assuming things happen even more often than they truly do, at least in terms of your real personal odds of risk.

Prosecute the scrap metal yards more harshly, have a "police book" like used car lots and pawn shops. Document the person selling, get a photo of the same with the persons face, etc, etc.

Only allow maximum amounts of metal to be recycled unless said person has a registered business, per day/week/whatever. Regulate it.

There isn't an incentive if you can't sell it. As a commentator indicated below people were scrapping fire hydrants. Wouldn't this be a huge red flag??

"Oh yeah, I see you have 5 hydrants here to sell. I can't think of where these could have possibly have come from."

Looking at crime in general around cities and not just metal theft, I think that it's the result of a mismatch of incentives and disincentives.

If you are in poverty in America and want to get help, it's pretty easy to get. You can get food stamps to buy food, to go a shelter or section 8 for housing, we have welfare and many other programs to take care of folks who ask for it.

But each of those programs has rules, you can't buy booze with your food stamps and you can't bring drugs into a shelter for example. Some people don't like this tradeoff so they resort to theft, whether breaking into a car or stealing the copper wiring out of a lightpole.

And that is where the issue is, while we are pouring tons and tons of resources into the inventive, we as a society are neglecting the fact that you also need disincentives. We need to make sure that we show people that we have incentives to get them back on their feet, get them healthy and get them fed but we also need to show equal disincentives if they choose to break the law.

I'm not sure "pretty easy" is fair. In my city, there's a lottery for Section 8 housing. The applications are regularly closed. I think our applications might've been closed since 2020 (https://www.kcha.org/housing/vouchers/lottery). The people who got on that list before 2020 are periodically chosen in a lottery when vouchers occasionally become available. Once they have the voucher, they are then responsible for finding a landlord that accepts Section 8 housing vouchers and has an availability.

That's not to say that there aren't many options for aid, but many of these programs are much less available than you'd think.

If you are in poverty in America and want to get help, it's pretty easy to get.

No, you're wrong. The only thing one can say is "many programs exist" but they are altogether inadequate even without their restrictions (which you're minimizing).

Most places section 8 housing is nearly impossible to get with years waits common. Shelters have extremely restrictive conditions as well as being very unpleasant (being around people destroyed by the system isn't good for even those not yet in terrible condition).

Also, drugs and alcohol are often by homeless people to get to sleep in circumstances where it would be otherwise impossible.

Let me ask you a question; Why doesn't Singapore deal with this type of crime?

We, as a society, have stopped demanding people to take responsibility for themselves. We don't hold anyone accountable for their actions. We ostracize the basic enforcement of accountability and those that are charged with upholding law. We are soft AF as a society.

Don't like 3/4 of Singaporeans live in some form of subsidized public housing? I would definitely support heavily funding the same solution here, if that's what you're advocating.

Yep! HDBs are the norm for Singaporean citizens.

That said, they will also prosecute anti-social behavior in an extremely putative manner.

In Singapore (and also Japan and SK), it's the carrot and the stick that runs the social contract.

Hell, you could stop crime altogether if every misdemeanor carried the death penalty!

Scrap recyclers should be required to keep a log of who they're buying scrap from, so there's a paper trail to identify patterns with. Some states require scrap yards to do that with catalytic converters, for the same reason.

There was the same issue in the UK a few years ago (with thieves even stripping copper war memorials), and the solution was indeed this, making recyclers demand ID from people and keep logs.

Ditto New Zealand. The first time I took some scrap metal to a dealer, I had to fill in a lot of paperwork, but subsequent visits required me to only show my id.

Many states require photos, fingerprints, record retention, and other restrictions on scrap metal dealers:


These people are buying valuable resources for pennies on the dollar in cash. They are hugely incentivized to not ask too many questions.

Hence, “should be required to…” If you make non-compliance with the law far more painful than the profits from illegal metals, you’ve fixed the incentive problem.

It's pointless to require something if you can't enforce it.

Requiring record keeping is not difficult to enforce.

This ... it's the recyclers that need to stop this ... or be forced to stop it.

Sackler family is likely the most responsible for this.

You can say “just sort out who is doing this!” and you can say “what has happened to the world that it’s come to this!” And the answer to both is the same:


You’re stealing copper wiring because you’re an addict. You’re not getting a minimum wage job because you’re an addict. You live in poverty because you’re an addict.

Comments lamenting the state of society are as useful as kicking dirt. Either build better bridges or make better medicine.

Now one of you smart people comment something useful in this thread about tech that can cure dependency issues!

People live in poverty without being an addict; it's not an either/or, and you're punching down on both poor people and addicts, neither of which is helpful.

Tech will not cure dependency issues, it's biochemists, biologists, and psychologists that are at the forefront of that, and there isn't a universal cure for addiction. Tech also won't solve poverty, which is a political issue.

Cheap access to GLP-1 agonists might help with addiction. I have facilitated someone getting access for alcoholism, and it’s like night and day, with them being fully functional.

Appears to be an incredibly powerful force multiplier, just need to scale up (can be manufactured for less than $5/month/person). My apologies for going off topic, confirming your point to solve addiction to solve these second order effects of mental health challenges and poverty. Secure (basic needs), functional humans with basic needs met don't strip infra and homes for copper.

> Tech will not cure dependency issues, it's biochemists, biologists, and psychologists that are at the forefront of that, and there isn't a universal cure for addiction. Tech also won't solve poverty, which is a political issue.






> People live in poverty without being an addict

Please let me know where these people are! I have been riding the streets for 18 years in a city with over 1 million (Top 100 by population in the US) and I haven't met an actual impoverished person that was not an addict. Our "poorest" citizens eat better than lower middle-class with EBT. They steal because its 1000% easier than any job on the planet.

All the poor children you've met were addicted to drugs? Seems odd. Are you counting sugar as a drug?

Several issues:

1. Of course you can live in poverty without being an addict, that wasn't an implication of what I said.

2. Biochemistry is technology.

3. Tech will, has, and is 'solving' poverty.

4. My point is that it is not poverty driving people to strip copper from the walls, it is drug addiction.

Poor people aren't stealing copper. Crackheads are.

Drugs are mostly a side-effect of other psychological issues, and it's in a control theory sense a positive feedback loop. You can't eliminate drugs, but you can work on the underlying problems.


Anecdotally the people I know that take serious drugs are on average as normal as anyone else. And I know plenty of people with psych issues that don't take drugs. Neither a necessary nor sufficient condition.

Yes, we can work on people's underlying psychological problems, but we are far from having reliable solutions to resolve psychological problems.

Your implied solution is that we can fix drug addicts. That is a long way from reality in my limited experience (and I have acquantances working in drug rehab).

Watch one close friend go down the hellhole of drug addiction, and you can quckly discover for yourself that often (a) it isn't due to mental health and (b) there doesn't seem to be much that anyone can do.

People espousing this theory usually point to rat park.

Unfortunately, rat park is in no sense good or useful science. It's more useful as a litmus test for how sincerely someone tests their beliefs.

A lot of this goes back to 2016 when states signed the Opioid compact that made it much harder to get Oxycontin prescriptions.

There were a lot of addicts that were getting opioids prescribed to them by a doctor and paid for by Medicaid. Abuse was happening but few needed to turn to crime.

Suddenly a lot of them lost their legal opioid prescription, and this is when we saw the explosion of fentanyl and the rise of drug fueled crime.

We’re working on a startup for non-addictive pain treatment. Derived from new genetics (not papaver somniferum).

There are a lot of people who steal stuff who aren't addicted.

It's a quick and easy way to make money, so of course drug addicts will be drawn to it, but people who don't care about the moral issues with stealing, or find it easier than the alternative will do it too.

Get them hooked on social media before they get hooked on drugs.

But seriously, just regulate the recyclers where people are eventually taking this stuff.

quick look at my usual place shows them paying $0.15/lb for clean lead, 3cents less for batteries; and up to $2.20lb for clean copper.

At the peak in 2007, lead was worth at least 1/3rd more.


... so i dunno about "soaring demand for metals", cuz the market doesn't seem to show that.

copper is higher than the 2011 peak, but not that much more.


I’ll never understand promoting the hysterical media driven vilification of crimes of poverty.

The costs of repairing the damage vastly exceed the earnings obtained by the criminal. The article gives the example $85k in damage incurred to repair damage that yielded $394 in scrap. This destruction of wealth harms overall welfare, and deprives the government of resources, which hurts poor people especially. In other words, even if you only care about people who live in poverty, you should support a crackdown that will deter crimes like this.

I wonder what the costs to prosecute a criminal are? I'm pretty cynical, so if I heard about $85K, I wouldn't be all that surprised.

You never have to prosecute the crimes you deter. And if you don’t deter at all the crimes will just keep increasing. A city where only gated communities have electricity is not good for the poor.

These are not crimes of poverty. These are crimes of people that literally don't give a f** about anyone but themselves and getting their next fix. Go ride along with your local PD or fire department to see the bulls** for yourself.

Even giving the benefit of the doubt that we can decide whether a thief was doing it to alleviate their poverty, it's still impossible to paint "poverty" theft as broadly sympathetic, since logically only a subset of thieves are making a sympathetic decision based on their personal circumstances. I.e. simply being poor doesn't mean you are stealing because you were forced into unfair circumstances and it's the only option you have left and your child is sick, etc.

Yes, Americans have a problem regarding crime perception - a lack of sympathy and a thirst for punishment. But your attitude is simply the opposite problem. Trying to use your broad paintbrush is only going to create antagonism. People understandably hate crime - hate. It ruins homes, businesses, communities, one's sense of safety and camaraderie - all of the things we work hardest for and hold dearest. It's too much to ask.

Its really grating to see headlines phrased this way, implying extreme outcomes. To someone not living in a city, it paints an immediate picture of dystopia. It pushes the rural-city divide further - the last thing we need more of.

Be nice if the cities had police, and if they had prosecutors willing to put people in jail for property theft.

I think it's more important for the cities to be tolerant and inclusive of theft culture. Theft is just part and parcel of living in a large city and diversity makes us stronger.

It'd be nice if people were well-off enough that they didn't have to strip-mine the infrastructure.

The economic optimization continues.

It's pretty easy to do a few $k of drugs in a week. Do the calculation.

The people buying the "recycled" metal are the ones making bank. Why bother investigating or prosecuting them?

Also, this has been going on for decades.

That would be contrary to lower taxes and less government, which many people claim to want.

The highest tax cities I have been in have the worst police, the worst roads, and the worst trash handling. Police and other basic services are very cheap compared to many of the programs undertaken by high-tax cities.

A small city in southern il.

Surrounded by prisons.The new home of choice for recently released prisoners.

It's where all cities within 100 miles send their problem homeless.

Primary industries: retirement communities, abortion services, care for the mentally disabled and a small university.

Worst restaurants.

Many trailer parks.

Half the population collects welfare.

High taxes

Unreasonably large police station and train station. Seriously. Huge.

It's like they're setting something up.

Any other cities like this?

Cupertino has no police department. They sometimes get cops from SJ but... visually speaking there are basically no cops. Their public schools are Really Excellent. Maybe not top 10 in the nation, but they are around top 100. Palo Alto is about as nice as Cupertino in many respects but has lots of police. They are both similar population towns. There are many cities which likely will never ever be Cupertino no matter what sort of governance they pursue. Similarly, America might never achieve another NYC, just as the UK might never achieve another London.

We need more sophisticated theories about what specific theories apply to what specific cities rather than looking for general copy-paste philosophies which can be summarized on the back of a napkin.

My suggestion here was that tax rate actually has nothing do to with quality of such basic services. It sounds like we agree.

That very much depends on your city, in some places cops take up more than 20% of city budgets, in some places more than 40% of the city budget is taken up by policing.

Where I live today, about 40% of the town budget goes to firefighters and police together. I was honestly surprised it was that low. However, it's one of the basic functions of a city and I live in a very low-tax place. I don't think you should generally be upset that police cost a lot of a town's budget, especially if the budget is small.

By contrast, I used to live in NYC, which had a budget of over $100 billion, of which about 5% was the police department.

Cities typically vote for higher taxes and more government, on the contrary.

If I hear “but the underlying causes” or “maybe they’re poor” one more time, so help me…

But seriously, this isn’t an either/or game. We can and should fight the underlying causes simultaneously while arresting people, temporarily preventing them from doing further damage.

Also, part of life is realizing there are people who commit crime just for the heck of it, who have no interest in reform, and arrive at that lifestyle from a wide array of backgrounds. I still vividly remember when a news station in LA chased a beggar and found they lived in a mansion.

I guess we solid fund the scrap yards taking this material and punish them too, since they enable it. I suggest we jail the execs and managers there for not putting systems in place to prevent paying for stolen materials. I bet this would stop it really quick, and we only have to prosecute a few people rather than every thief, because of supply and demand; reducing demand immensely will make it not worth stealing infrastructure.

That’s a straw man because it shifts the blame onto the objects, and victims, of the theft rather than the thief.

It doesn’t matter what it is, crime is typically opportunistic.

Next week, it will be smashing houses to steal jewelry. A month from now, it will be catalytic converters. A year, robbing laptops and getting decryption keys at gunpoint.

Who needs to be punished here? The thief. Who needs to change? The thief. Who needs to be taken out of society if they voluntarily choose to not change? The thief.

Scrapyards are what we’re talking about here, don’t expand into other arguments needlessly. We’re not talking about jewelry or electronics at the moment.

Do you think it’s acceptable to take 300 feet of commercial copper wiring from a random dude and pay him for it without question? Punish the thieves, but also roll them over to testify against the obvious criminality happening in the scrapyards. You’re laying all the blame on the small thieves, but this kind of massive theft requires a supporting demand. Targeting one side is this equation doesn’t work.

> Do you think it’s acceptable to take 300 feet of commercial copper wiring from a random dude and pay him for it without question?

Well, here’s the problem with that: You’re showing that the scrapyards are acting as though we are living in a high-trust society, and act as though everything was legit.

Your proposal is to once again force the scrapyard to change and act like a potential customer is a thief. This is dangerous logic, because consider:

- Should computers have mandatory spyware? Many of their users do illegal things, some morally repugnant.

- Should stores check your ID at the door, even Walmart? That would surely stop thieves, it’s their own fault if they don’t.

My point is that there are no shortages of industries which have criminal customers. Even the company hosting your little web server.

I don’t like scrapyards; but I believe that it is the job of police to allow society to function like we can trust each other. If that means the scrapyards are a little trashy; so be it.

You started with telling me not to straw man, then you did it. What does computer spyware and Walmart have to do with scrapyards?

You’re also pre-supposing that scrapyards are innocent victims of those thieves passing off goods as their own, but this scale of theft-to-scrap absolutely requires criminality of both sides of the transaction.

That beggar must have inherited a lot of wealth because you normally have to commit way more lucrative crimes to own an LA mansion.

It costs way more to jail people. Prison isn’t free.

Who cares? The point is we live in a society of laws, not that we choose which laws have teeth because the cost of punishing someone is greater than the cost of the crime.

> The point is we live in a society of laws

I used to believe this, but watching the Trump presidency really shook something loose for me, and now I pretty much believe we live more in a society of "whatever you can get away with" if I was to put my feeling into words. You might think that that means I feel like I can do whatever I want, but it's sort of made me realize how important my own morality is to me and I feel like I'm living the best I have in my lifetime. I guess it didn't have that effect on everyone however.

That would be contrary to lower taxes and less government, which many people claim to want.

Hmm, I see two examples from Los Angeles California, which isn't known for lower taxes and less government.


"Oh, sorry for the mistake.. and for your hands too, I guess?"


This has nothing to do with the Romani people and your low-effort, racist tropes do not belong on this message board.

have you coexisted with romani ppl?

Yes, I have, and?

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