Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Department (Legacy)

Department of Justice Administration

Committee Chair

Tewksbury, Richard

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Gagne, Patricia

Committee Member

Keeling, Deborah

Committee Member

McCord, Eric


Scrap metals; Thieves--Social conditions; Criminals--Social conditions; Ragpickers--Social conditions


Metal theft is a crime that has significantly affected the U.S. in the last decade causing millions of dollars of damages and losses. However, little is known about its prevalence and harms to society. Moreover, even less is known about the individuals who are involved in metal theft. This lack of knowledge has hampered the ability of law enforcement, governments and individuals to prevent metal theft. The present study provides the first known qualitative examination of scrappers and metal thieves. Qualitative data is derived from participant observation and unstructured interviews with scrappers as well as metal thieves. The goals are to define the characteristics, develop understanding, describe places and events, and identify the meanings, concepts and definitions of metal thieves. The present study provides insight into the criminal motivation and methods of metal theft as well as lays a foundation for future studies. Findings indicate that much of what is commonly believed about metal thieves in popular media and through anecdotal reports may be incorrect. Among other important findings, the present study indicates there is a clear difference between scrappers and metal thieves, identifies a scrapping subculture and distinguishes a taxonomy of scrappers and metal thieves. Further, metal thieves tended to operate in teams, usually are employed, often planed and deliberately committed theft, and were less influenced by drugs than frequently claimed. Moreover, metal thieves are often currently, or vii have a past work history, in field related to metal. These and other findings represent a significant contribution to the field of criminal justice and provide a thorough understanding of metal thieves and their behavior.