New copper law may slow thefts

Published 12:03 am Thursday, August 2, 2012



Thieves will have a more difficult time disposing of their ill-gotten gains after a new law governing the sale of recycled metals in the state went into effect Wednesday.

Law enforcement officials are hoping the law, which requires buyers and scrap yards to get more information from sellers, will help curtail the epidemic of metal thefts.

Rising scrap metal prices during the past five years or so have led to the increase in metal thefts, especially copper. Copper pipe and wires are pulled from empty houses; air-conditioning units are stolen from churches; and metal objects are stolen from farms. Metal urns and vases are even pried from headstones and grave markers.

The material is sold for scrap, netting the thieves a pittance compared with the amount of property damage usually left behind.

The new law requires businesses buying scrap to make a copy of a photo ID of the seller, get a vehicle description including license plate number and put the information into a statewide database.

Any metal netting more than $50 is paid for with a check.

The law also makes selling stolen metal valued at more than $250 a Class C felony, with a punishment range of one to 10 years in prison upon conviction.

Shannon Cooper at Pugh & Sons, a metal scrap yard located on Alabama Hwy. 55 South, said he believes the new law will impact business – in a good way.

“We already had a number of those items (in the law) in place,” Cooper said. “We have a security camera system in place. We require a person selling the items to sign a ticket swearing the stuff isn’t stolen. We made a copy of their ID, too.

“Under the new law, there’s a lot of points that thieves won’t like,” he said. “Now, under the law, IDs must be current. We can’t buy burnt wire, which is where people burn the coating off to get the copper.”

Law enforcement has long said the county has a problem with thieves stealing air conditioning units for the copper inside. Now, it will be harder to make a profit on those units, Cooper said.

“If someone brings in what I call an outside AC unit, the law says they have to show us a receipt where they purchased a new one,” he said. “Same thing applies to catalytic converters off cars. You have to show a receipt.

“Also another big change is that we can’t buy metal off anyone under the age of 18,” he said. “Whereas before we could by from anyone 16 or older, as long as they had an ID.”

Cooper said flyers are posted throughout the grounds to remind customers and staff alike of the new changes.

“This is the first day of the new law,” he said of Wednesday. “We’re having to get used to it ourselves, but I think it’s a good thing. We do think it will make business drop a bit at first, but it will pick up as people get used to it.”

Chief Deputy David Anderson agreed from a law enforcement perspective.

“I believe it will slow (burglaries) down a little, but a criminal will always try harder when their means of getting money becomes harder,” he said.

Another key factor in the new law is the formation of the database that will allow investigators to check surrounding counties to see what’s being recycled and cross-reference that information with burglary reports to develop leads in the cases.