They are robberies of opportunity without logistics, or preparation, or an organization behind. The theft of the potable water service meters in Rosario, with the consequent destruction of part of the facilities, leaves a meager income for those who perpetrate it: barely between 100 and 200 pesos in the illegal market. Surely, it rewards those who buy these devices and melt the metals from which they are made with a considerably higher profit. It costs the service provider, the state company Assa, between 5 and 6 thousand pesos to replace what is damaged in each event. It generates a problem for the neighbor due to the interruption of the provision of an essential input. Those who fall, sometimes, are the first link in the chain, occasional thieves with no other tools than a pliers or a hammer. Those above, continue with the business that encourages the continuity of vandalism.
The most recent case was reported by residents of the Abasto neighborhood this Wednesday. When they got up, they noticed that no water was coming out of the taps. In the Dorrego block at 2200, five had been robbed at once during the early morning. They also said that it was equipment that had been replaced last year also because of their theft.
Sources from Aguas Santafesinas explained that, for the company that provides health services, the cost of each robbery depends on the damage caused. Is that, in most cases, in addition to removing the meter, they break the connecting couplings, made of bronze and plastic, and sometimes they also steal the metal covers if they are the first ones installed. In those cases, they have to replace the entire drawer, with extra masonry work. The disbursement ranges between 4 and 5 thousand pesos.
The same ASSA interlocutors recognize that it is difficult to specify how much a meter destined to melt in the illegal market is paid. But they risked that the payment to those who steal them should not exceed 100 or at most 200 pesos. “It is a robbery of opportunity, because it is at hand,” they admitted. The perpetrators are far from being members of organized gangs. In many cases, people in a state of indigence who hardly find a way to make a few pesos without too much complication or tools.
The material of the meters is an alloy containing bronze, the same as the connection couplings of the instrument with the pipe, both from the side of the main conduit and the one that enters the homes. The older meter housings are made of bronze, but not the more modern ones, which are molded in plastic.
The final destination of the equipment is the smelting furnace. Afterwards, there may be a process of separation of the different metals. This is a higher phase in the chain of robberies, and those responsible rarely fall into the hands of the Justice or the security forces. Those who end up arrested, in some cases, are those from the first chapter of the criminal series, those who obtain a meager income.
The lion’s share of the chain remains in the shadows, keeping the demand for metal objects to melt down and resell. The average number of complaints, they point out from Assa, is 50 to 60 per month, although there is a wide variation in cases depending on the days.
The service provider has now started cementing the meter boxes that it replaces after the vandalization. It makes a kind of concrete chest to make it more difficult to steal the interior elements and, they say, the strategy works: it does not completely prevent thefts, but inhibits them due to the greater difficulty in perpetrating them. In view, only the quadrant that indicated consumption remains.
The company emphasizes that the consequences of these events put them in a tight spot. The stock of meters assigned for the renewal of the equipment or expansion of the measured area is being used to replace the stolen ones. Therefore, they ask to report each event to 911 because that way, in some, they have been recovered.
What remains is to go over the juiciest part of the business, and more concentrated and organized: that of the smelters.