Scrap yards enlisted in fight against metal thefts

2013-12-29T00:00:00Z 2013-12-29T23:06:07Z Scrap yards enlisted in fight against metal theftsSusan Erler susan.erler@nwi.com, (219) 662-5336 nwitimes.com
December 29, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Employees of Metro Recycling monitor scrap metal deliveries nonstop on more than a half dozen computer screens mounted in the company's Griffith plant, while still cameras capture photos of every load of scrap weighed.

The technology is part of the company's effort to purge stolen scrap metal from its work stream and to aid law enforcement in tracking such thefts, a growing problem nationwide.

"We're always looking for ways to control it," Metro Recycling CEO Neil Samahon said. "We want to be part of the solution."

Law enforcement agencies across the country and around the globe started seeing increased thefts of metals such as copper, bronze, brass and aluminum in the years leading up to the recent economic downturn, a report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau said.

Locally, Indiana state police and highway departments earlier this month launched an effort this month to stem growing incidences of thefts of wiring from highway lighting.  Swaths of highway, including at the Borman Expressway/Interstate 65 interchange and the 109th Avenue exit from I-65, have been darkened by the thefts.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau report tracked a total nationwide 33,775 claims for the theft of copper, bronze, brass or aluminum between 2010 and 2012.

The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated metal theft costs U.S. businesses around $1 billion a year, the report said.

Lawmakers in many states and cities, including in Indiana, have taken measures to control metal theft by requiring the kinds of safeguards in place at Metro Recycling.

The measures require scrap metal businesses to document the identity of individuals who sell them scrap metal, note the license plate of the vehicle used to transport the metal, maintain the information on file and pay the seller with with a check instead of cash, among others.

A measure enacted by the Indiana General Assembly in July added another layer of oversight, this one targeting scrap vehicles, catalytic converters and air conditioner evaporator coils.

State Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, said he filed the bill after hearing of growing numbers of thefts of catalytic converters and air conditioner units in his district, where there are more than 10 scrap yards.

"We looked at how do we increase some of the proof required for people who bring in these items, to make sure they came about them lawfully," Moed said.

House Enrolled Act 1441 requires someone who disposes of a vehicle for scrap metal to provide proper documentation and makes not doing so a misdemeanor. It also requires documentation for  the sale and purchase of air conditioning parts or a catalytic converter.

Growing numbers of scrap metal thefts were a top concern for Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller heading into 2012 and remains so today, Miller said last week.

Crooks have broken into vacant homes to cut out copper plumbing, have stolen aluminum downspouts, gutters, air conditioners and siding, Miller said. Municipalities are losing manhole covers, plumbing from parks and park buildings and even park benches to the thieves, Miller said.

"It has become a major problem," Miller said. The city has ordinances in place meant to curb the theft, but that doesn't stop criminals from taking stolen metals to dealers outside the city or across state lines, he said.

Metro Recycling's Samahon said his company and other reputable scrap metal businesses want to work alongside law enforcement to curb the problem.

The company is registered with ScrapTheftAlert.com, a tool for law enforcemenent to alert the scrap industry of significant thefts of materials in the U.S. and Canada. Alerts are broadcast to all subscribers within a 100-mile radius of where the incident occurred.

Samahon sits on the board of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and is a member of the Metal Theft Task Force, looking at ways to control the activity.

"We're having discussion with states' attorney generals and legislators to come up with the best solution," Samahon said.

"On a local level we're developing relationships with law enforcement. We want them to see we are their allies," he said.

His hope is that prosecution levels of those stealing the metals will climb.

"Often the laws are directed toward this industry," Samahon said. "The perception is we're part of the problem, not the solution.

"We want to be part of the conversation," Samahon said. "Once we're able to sit down with (law enforcement) it becomes constructive."

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