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Metal Theft

Metal theft is a significant criminal activity that involves the unauthorized extraction and sale of both ferrous and non-ferrous metals such as copper, brass, aluminum, steel, lead, and iron. These materials are often stolen from critical infrastructure—including utilities and transportation systems—as well as businesses, residential areas, public spaces, and historical sites, leading to extensive damage and economic losses.
Despite the widespread impact of metal theft, there remains a gap in our understanding of the dynamics of this crime, including the profiles of the perpetrators, effective prevention strategies, and the overall societal consequences. With my background as a former police investigator, I transitioned into academic research to explore these issues more deeply. My approach involved conducting comprehensive ethnographic analyses with both scrappers and active metal thieves, challenging the previously unclear distinctions between these groups.
The insights gained from this research are detailed in my book, Metal Scrappers and Thieves: Scavenging for Survival and Profit, published in 2017 by Palgrave Macmillan. This work, which won the 2019 Mid-South Sociological Association’s Stanford M. Lyman Distinguished Book Award, dives into the lives of those involved in metal theft, offering unique perspectives on their motivations and the economic pressures they face. My ongoing research continues to shed light on this complex issue, aiming to inform both policy and public awareness to mitigate the impacts of metal theft.
Metal Theft Book
Copper, Metal, Brass, Platinum, Radium, Catalytic Converter,


The Book on Metal Scrappers & Thieves

Book Summary:

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.

What Others are saying: 

"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

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