COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio leads the nation in insurance claims for metal thefts, with Cincinnati and Cleveland ranking among the top 10 metro areas, a report shows.
A National Insurance Crime Bureau report released Wednesday shows Ohio filed 3,228 claims from 2010 through 2012. That's 23 percent more than second-place Texas. The numbers don't necessarily mean more metal thefts in Ohio, only that businesses and homeowners file more claims.
Among metropolitan areas, Cincinnati ranked sixth with 720 claims, Cleveland was ninth with 627, and Columbus 13th with 444 claims. New York City-Long Island-northern New Jersey topped the nation with 1,275 claims.
Metal theft has been increasing across the country. Thieves have stripped sheets of metal from rooftops, ripped apart air conditioners for the copper coils, and stolen cemetery decorations. The pieces are then sold for scrap, and quick cash for the thieves.
"You have a knucklehead on the street stealing it and a knucklehead that accepts it," said Frank Scafidi, an insurance bureau spokesman.
The Columbus Dispatch reported that Ohio insurance officials said they're not sure why more claims are filed in the state.
"This is really a tough one for us to get our arms around as to the specifics," said Mary Bonelli, spokeswoman for the Ohio Insurance Institute.
She said variations in claims-reporting processes could account for Ohio's high ranking. More reporting and tracking of metal theft may go on in Ohio than in other states.
Authorities say the economic downturn contributed to a sharp rise in theft reports. Prices for copper and other metals have risen, more people are desperate for money -- some for drugs -- and there are more vacant foreclosed houses that provide opportunities.
An assistant Montgomery County prosecutor in a recent case of a man sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for stealing copper piping and other materials from 20 unoccupied homes said the thefts can be costly for homeowners. The Dayton Daily News reported, for example, that a Vandalia home was damaged extensively by flooding after a thief stole copper water piping in the basement.
"This crime destroys people's structures and makes them uninhabitable, and these are people's homes," said Ward Barrentine, the assistant prosecutor.
Police and Ohio legislators have tried to curtail the practice with increased patrols and tighter regulations on scrap yards to make it more difficult to sell stolen metal.
Police urge the public to report any suspicious activity around structures.
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