top of page

Metal Theft


Metal theft involves the unlawful taking of ferrous and non-ferrous metals (usually copper, brass, aluminum, steel, lead, and iron) from the built environment and recycling the items for money. This is a pervasive crime with a long history and is causing untold damage to critical infrastructure (e.g., utilities and transportation), business, residential areas (e.g., abandoned houses and air conditioners), public spaces, and even historical sites.

Unfortunately, little is known about this crime, who commits it, how it can be prevented, and other crucial details. In fact, it was not entirely sure that scrappers and metal thieves were two distinct groups of people. For these reasons, I took the skills I had as a former police investigator and entered the field to conduct an ethnographic analysis with scrappers and active metal thieves. The answers to these and many other questions; as well as the journey into the lives of thieves is chronicled in the book Metal Scrappers and Thieves: Scavenging for Survival and Profit published (2017) by Palgrave Macmillan; winner of the 2019 Mid-South Sociological Association, Stanford M. Lyman Distinguished Book Award.

This book explores the little-known world of scrappers and metal thieves’ based on field research collected while traversing communities with thieves and scrappers. Drawing on candid interviews, observations of criminals at work, and participation in the scrapping subculture, the volume describes the subculture of scrappers and identifies differences between scrappers and metal thieves. Through the offenders’ perspective, often quoting their candid responses, Stickle explores the motivations for metal theft as well as the techniques and methods for successfully committing theft. The book discusses how these methods and techniques are learned and identifies ways—often through the thieves’ own words—to prevent metal theft. Throughout the book, common assumptions are challenged about this community, and policy implications are identified.

Metal Theft Book
Copper, Metal, Brass, Platinum, Radium, Catalytic Converter,

Praise for Metal Scrappers & Thieves

"Professor Stickle offers the first close-up study of these offenders, their modus operandi, and how they think and act. He considers when they do harm and when they do not, adding to the literature on how offenders make decisions and how they might be guided to make different choices." – Marcus Felson

"Stickle’s well-done ethnography of metal scrappers presents a complex and nuanced portrait of scrappers. The stories he tells not only add to our academic understanding of this stigmatized group, but they also humanize them. In the end, this is what we want from ethnographies, and Stickle delivers." – Heith Copes


bottom of page