An opportunistic thief or thieves is, or are, stealing valuable copper downspouts.

Seven North Oak Park residences and one church had one or more copper downspouts stolen between Jan. 25 and Jan. 29. With the exception of the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church in the 700 block of Fair Oaks Avenue, the downspouts were taken from homes north of Augusta Boulevard, four of them on the 900 and 1100 blocks of North Elmwood Avenue.

Police say the reason for the thefts is that copper is a valuable metal that brings in good money when scraped. Copper doesn’t lose value after being made into wire and downspouts, retaining up to 90 percent of the cost of the original copper. Loss estimates from several recent thefts back that up, ranging from $100 for a single 9-foot downspout to $600 and $800 in two other cases.

“Obviously they’ll sell it for the copper,” said Oak Park Deputy Chief of Police Bob Scianna, who added that the village goes through rashes of such thefts from time to time, noting that the thefts are primarily one of opportunity for low-tech thieves looking for a quick, relatively easy and lucrative score.

“It sounds like they’re just driving down alleys,” said Scianna. “It doesn’t take long.”

River Forest police have dealt with numerous incidents of gutter and downspout theft as well. Last April, someone stole two 15-foot sections of copper gutter from the River Forest Commons Condominiums, 1 Gale St., the third time in a week that building had been hit by thieves. The very next night, someone called police to report that they had observed someone attempting to steal yet more copper gutter. River Forest police stopped an individual who matched the witness’s description. However, police had no physical evidence of any crime, and the witness refused to cooperate, so the man was released without charges. The gutters were recovered at the scene.

While police can step up their presence in the area, Scianna said the best chance for a break will be if some resident sees a suspicious vehicle capable of hauling the lengthy stolen goods away and calls police.

“We need somebody to report a suspicious van or pickup,” he said.

The phenomenon isn’t limited to Oak Park and River Forest, and not just to copper. An Associated Press article in the Monday Chicago Tribune reported that the problem extends throughout the United States, and overseas. Prices for scrap copper and aluminum are up substantially, and so is the motive for stealing it. Pure copper, the article notes, currently sells for about $2.10 a pound, and aluminum about $1.05. Scrap copper is bringing between $1.30 to $1.80 a pound, about double what it was a year ago. The demand for those metals, the article noted, is expected to continue to rise over the next three to four years.

According to one metals trading website, per-pound payments for scrap copper varied from $1.26 to $1.82, depending on the type and quality.

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