With 38 apparent homicides recorded in Allen County as of Monday – eight more than all of last year and just five short of the record – it's easy to overlook or minimize crime that involves “only” property.
But to a man whose business has been targeted not once, not twice, but at least six times in eight months, theft can also kill: sleep, a sense of security, profit and maybe even jobs.
“We didn't have any issues until February. I didn't understand how serious this issue is, but they keep coming back. They're determined,” said Don Dale, who manages A&E Inc. in the former Tokheim pump plant on Wabash Avenue.
A little more than half of Dale's 13 employees are involved in the products implied by the company's name: adhesives and equipment. But because it rents about 70,000 square feet in a cavernous facility that previously manufactured gasoline pumps, A&E also dabbles in warehousing.
And as Dale now knows only too well, the copper tubing he stored for a local heating and cooling company proved so enticing it kept the crooks coming back for more.
The culprits' identity is, for now, unknown. Dale told police following the theft of 749 lbs. of tubing in February that there were no signs of forced entry but that a company that had just moved into the warehouse had access to his space through an overhead door. Subsequent burglaries did show signs of forced entry, however, which caused Dale and the plant's owners to install a variety of expensive security devices.
Those proved ineffective as well, with a security camera recording one theft but unable to provide a clear image of those involved. “They kept their heads down and their hoods up,” Dale said -- which may be one reason he seems almost as frustrated by the lack of evidence and prosecution is by the criminals themselves.
But if misery really does love company, Dale should at least find comfort in the knowledge that he is not alone. The Fort Wayne Police Department has recorded about 250 copper thefts so far this year after experiencing 535 in 2012 and 208 in 2011. In fact, as CNBC reported earlier this year, copper theft has become an epidemic that now accounts for $1 billion in annual losses in the U.S. alone.
The reason, of course, is money. With the value of copper near $3 per pound – down from last year but still 375 percent higher than a decade ago – crime really can pay, after all.
Office Michael Joyner, FWPD spokesman, knows that almost as well as Dale does. State and local laws try to limit thieves' incentive to steal by making it harder to sell stolen materials, he said, and scrap dealers are supposed to request identification and may even fingerprint people attempting to sell copper and other metals. Businesses and others are also encouraged to deter crooks by marking their materials in some way, even though the use of fluorescent paint.
Of course, when you're storing copper for another company – copper that will be used in high-priced systems – you're not in a position to splash a lot of gaudy paint around. Perhaps that's why, despite a couple of false alarms, none of Dale's stuff has turned up at local scrap yards.
“We do notify local facilities when items are stolen. But we find that some (crooks) take the material outside (the city) to sell,” Joyner added.
All told, Dale's losses totaled thousands of pounds and even more thousands of dollars. So it's not surprising that, in addition to middle-of-the-night phone calls from his alarm company, he's also lost sleep over the potential impact on his business.
“This has jeopardized our relationship with our (warehouse) customer. It's a real concern,” Dale said shortly after another robbery earlier this month in which the crooks also stole one of the company's vehicles.
His concern, sadly, was justified. Last week, the company that had been paying A&E for warehouse space decided it had had enough and moved its copper to another and presumably more-secure location. His six warehouse-dependent employees, however, still have their jobs. For now.
But the crooks who somehow knew copper was being stored anonymously by an adhesives and equipment firm seem not to have gotten word that their actions produced the inevitable reaction.
Dale said his alarm went off again Friday. But this time, it seems, nothing of great value was taken.
Except, perhaps, for Dale's last ounce of patience and faith in human nature. Such scars aren't as visible as those inflicted by violent crime, but they're just as real.