Metal thieves and banda musicians have resorted to tuba thefts. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Usually a theft epidemic is when an item like a car or other consumer good is stolen due to its desirability. Right now, there is a disturbingly high number of thefts of tubas going on.

Southern California tuba theft incidents skyrocketing

During the past year, according to the Los Angeles Times, a number of tubas and sousaphones, the kind of tuba played by marching bands, have been stolen from high schools in the Los Angeles area. South Gate High School has had five stolen since September, one of which was a gift from singer Barry Manilow’s Manilow Music Project charitable organization. Eight have been stolen from Compton’s Centennial High School; all tubas from Huntington Park High School and Fremont High School have been stolen.

In the case of these high schools, the surmised culprits are people looking to get an instrument to play in bands that play “banda,” a type of Mexican folk music. Tuba players are valuable, as they can earn up to $100 per hour during performances. However, since tubas cost several thousand dollars for a used entry-level instrument, people find it easier to just steal them.

Metalheads make off with tubas

Some incidents of tuba theft and of other brass instruments are part of the current trend of metal theft. Thieves steal metal objects to sell them for scrap. Church bells, telephone poles and many other objects are common targets, as are brass musical instruments. For instance, England’s Daily Mail recently profiled a man just released from prison who had stolen 18,000 pounds (about $28,000) worth of brass instruments from the Pontardulais Town Band as part of a metal theft ring. The instruments were sold for scrap, netting proceeds of 61 pounds. The scrap yard owner who bought the instruments crushed them himself, after having been warned personally by the band’s leader. Despite being convicted for trafficking in stolen goods, he wasn’t jailed.

According to the IndyChannel, an ABC affiliate in Indianapolis, a man in Newburgh, Ind., was arrested for stealing a tuba from the University of Evansville. He tried to sell it to a music store, but unfortunately for him it was the store that sold it to the university.

Huge problem

The price commanded by raw materials, especially metals, is high due to significantly increased demand overseas. According to the Daily Mail, scrap metal theft and trading is an 800 million pounds per year industry. Estimates don’t exist for the United States, but the Center for Problem Oriented Policing, part of the Department of Justice, provides some figures that illustrate the scale of the problem. Stolen beer kegs alone cost the beverage industry an estimated $50 million in 2007, and the city of Philadelphia spent $300,000 between 2007 and 2008 to replace stolen manhole covers.


Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-tuba-thefts-20111212,0,5110587.story

Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2064989/Thief-stole-18-000-brass-bands-instruments-just-61-scrap–heres-thats-left-trumpet.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

IndyChannel: http://www.theindychannel.com/news/29959329/detail.html

POP report on metal theft (PDF – Requires Adobe Reader): http://www.popcenter.org/problems/pdfs/metal_theft.pdf

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