The 2nd Europol Conference on the growing trend of metal theft at Europol headquarters in The Hague took place on 23 and 24 April. Law Enforcement Officers from EU Member States and representatives from the private sector met in the framework of the European project on Mobile Organised Crime Groups.
UIC, which was invited to participate for the first time and was represented by Mr Jacques Colliard (Head of the UIC Security Division) and Mr José Pires (Senior Advisors of the UIC Security Division), provided – together with other sector organisations – the view of the railway operating community with regard to the metal theft phenomenon.
It is never too much to state that this type of crime causes considerable disruptions and the costs that are associated with replacing and repairing the damage often massively exceed the value of the metal stolen. Loss of communication networks and damage to railway tracks also raise public safety concerns. A large proportion of railway networks funds come from the government, so these thefts are, ultimately, at the taxpayer’s expense.
This was a common feeling among all the participants. Also a common feeling but in the form of a clear statement from the Law Enforcement Authorities (LEAs) is that Metal Theft within the EU geographical scope is an increasingly Mobile Organised Crime!
It is becoming easier for EU LEAs as organised crime organisations also include metal theft in their “crime portfolios”. The results and objectives became clear on the May 2013 EUROPOL metal theft action day. A two-day law enforcement operation sent a strong signal to the gangs of organised metal thieves who operate all over Europe, and to the many scrap yards that accept all kinds of metal with ‘no questions asked’.
The operation, which saw Belgian Federal and Judicial Police as the main driver, took place in 17 EU Member States on 27 and 28 May 2013, and was the result of an initiative launched during a meeting at Europol at the end of April this year. During the action days cross checks were made in real time with Europol’s databases.
“There are many organised crime groups involved in the large-scale theft of metals. They and the scrap dealers, who buy copper cable stolen from railway tracks or plaques from gravestones, now realise that this kind of cross-border crime is being taken seriously. The crime often affects critical transport, communication and power networks, causing considerable disruption, and the costs associated with replacing and repairing the damage caused often exceeds the value of the metal stolen,”
says Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol.
Intelligence shows that stolen metal is often transported across several borders and sold as scrap, or for recycling, far away from the scene of the crime. Intelligence gathered during this week’s action days will now be further analysed by Europol in order to pinpoint the main modus operandi and the people and gangs involved in this illegal trade.
The railway operating community is a committed to working collaboratively with its members as well as with the national and international authorities. As referred to by Mrs Susanne Kufeld (Head of DB Situation Centre and Global Crisis Management Corporate Security and Chairperson of the UIC Metal Theft WG), the railway sector is pleased with the growing level of collaboration in this field between railways, law enforcement security authorities and private sector across Europe, but it would like to go further.
It is therefore essential that railway companies collectively identify and assess the impact of metal theft on their business, covering the financial, operational and reputational impacts. For LEAs it is of great relevance to know and understand the dimension of the metal theft impacts in order to better answer the different support requests around Europe.
These will be further elaborated in the 6th UIC Metal Theft WG on 14 and 15 May in Vienna, Austria. At this meeting the 2013/14 work programme will be consolidated by presenting and discussing:
- The international/regional security meetings on border-crossing metal theft hot spots, (summary meeting results – meetings between October 2013 and May 2014)
- The list of technical solutions against metal theft, (industry, what can it offer?)
- The global costs of metal theft, (methodologies and steps forward )
- The map of metal theft on the railways, (cartography, professional Google maps, database)
- Partnerships and good practice exchange session (metal scrap dealers, international and national Law Enforcement Authorities, energy-telecom sectors views)
Overall it was accepted that a basis to develop partnerships between the LEAs, EU institutions and activity sectors in order to introduce and take into account all the metal theft impacts should be created.
In particular rail’s response must be consistent across Europe towards a single objective, which is to “Mitigate metal theft and its impact on railway users”.