The (Eugene) Register-Guard
The (Eugene) Register-Guard
Thefts of cable from utility substations, wire from construction sites and even works of sculpture from public parks are generally attributed to the high price of copper and other metals. But there's another factor: If thieves didn't think they could sell metal as scrap, they wouldn't bother to steal it in the first place. It's good to learn that progress is being made toward shutting down the market for stolen scrap.
Copper closed at $3.23 a pound in Monday's markets, up from 75 cents just a few years ago, so a spool of wire can fetch enough cash to feed a methamphetamine habit for a while. In the past year and a half, copper grounding wires have been stolen from five of the Eugene Water & Electric Board's 38 substations. Just one of those thefts cost the utility $4,000. The Bonneville Power Administration calculates that wire theft has cost the agency $200,000.
When thieves strip copper wire from lamp posts along a bicycle path in Eugene, the city must not only buy new wire but also pay for the labor involved in repairing the fixtures and in the meantime, the public's safety and quality of life is diminished by the loss of outdoor lighting. The cost of security at construction sites, the risk to the integrity of the electric system and even the danger that thieves will be electrocuted make metal thefts an expensive problem.
Another type of cost has arisen in recent weeks. Two artworks were taken from the Portland estate of the late arts patron Jean Vollum to be sold as scrap; two suspects, both said to be meth addicts, have been arrested. A five-foot bronze of Sacagawea and her infant son was stolen from Fort Clatsop near Astoria; three people were arrested after trying to sell the artwork as scrap.
Though the replacement value of a work of sculpture can be considerable, such thefts are not just economic crimes. Some artworks simply cannot be replaced if they are damaged or melted down, they are lost forever. More broadly, if artwork on display in public places becomes the target of theft, works of art will vanish behind locked doors. Sculpture that enhances parks, plazas and the exteriors of buildings will become rare. Downtown Eugene, which has gained an important dimension of interest and beauty with the addition of prominent works of sculpture in recent years, is vulnerable to this threat.
Effective responses are possible. The Oregon Legislature passed a law last year requiring scrap dealers to photograph and demand identification of metal sellers, and it was a scrap dealer who led police to the suspects in the theft of the Sacagawea sculpture. Utilities have begun painting their copper wire green for EWEB, black for the BPA so that scrap dealers can more readily identify stolen metal. A local Metals Task Force brought together utility, police and government representatives to confront the problem of metal theft.
It shouldn't be possible for a thief to show up at a scrap yard with a pickup load of wire or a bronze statue and drive away with a check. Ensuring that there is no reward for this dismaying crime is the best way to fight it.
Without a doubt, many foster children need psychiatric drugs to help them cope with crushing emotional issues, learning disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illness.
It's also true that too many Oregon foster kids are on such drugs, and many of them aren't being adequately monitored. Other states, where monitoring is more stringent, report lower percentages of foster children being given psychiatric drugs.
Thus, there's reason to cheer a set of reforms proposed by a team of doctors, nurses and child welfare experts who've been reviewing Oregon's problem. They'll provide a final report for consideration by the Legislature during its February session, and lawmakers should move swiftly to make sure the proposals result in action.
Some of them require extra funding for the Department of Human Services. For example, the recommendations include creation of a new data system to track psychiatric drugs prescribed for foster children, along with the hiring of a physician with expertise in pediatric mental health to serve as medical director for Oregon's child welfare division.
Another sensible proposal calls for more resources: Child welfare caseworkers and foster parents would have to take mandatory training in psychiatric medications, their side effects and management.
Dr. Bruce Goldberg, human services director, made the right move in appointing the task force after a Nov. 25 report in The Oregonian on the medicating of children in foster care. The newspaper's investigation of state records showed that nearly 30 percent of children living in Oregon foster homes during a recent 12-month period were being given powerful psychiatric drugs — a rate 4 Â1/2; times higher than that of other Oregon kids covered by Medicaid.
Goldberg's task force confirmed The Oregonian's finding that most of the state's 2,000-plus foster children on psychiatric medication aren't being adequately monitored. This failure of oversight suggests that additional strong recommendations are needed from the team as it prepares its final report.
It should urge that more second medical opinions be required for foster children taking psychiatric medications. It should call for eliminating the power of foster parents to give a child psychiatric drugs without state consent. And it should call for a goal of lowering Oregon's high percentage of foster children taking such medicine.
Again, there's no question that psychiatric drugs can be a godsend for many children who have been victimized by neglectful or abusive care. But these powerful drugs should be prescribed only after timely, expert diagnosis, and must be followed by careful monitoring and adjustment of doses.
In the next few weeks, the state must reverse its lax oversight of these kids' medication. Until that happens, Oregon is failing its job as legal guardian for children in foster care.