Michigan has begun to steel itself against metal thefts, but it’s still too early to tell if legislation that went into effect this summer is stopping thieves who have taken everything from copper wire and a Mustang hood to a cast-iron doctor chair to sell for scrap.
“The recycling industry supports a uniform way of collecting metals theft data so that we can get an accurate picture of the problem and what are some of the most effective solutions to solving it,” said Mark Carpenter of the Washington, D.C., based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries that represents more than 1,600 companies.
That data is not yet available, but some local collectors are hopeful it will make an impact.
The Scrap Metal Recovery Act went into effect in July with large bipartisan support in the state legislature. The main impacts on scrap dealers has been record-keeping.
“Now we have more paperwork,” said Debbie Simmons, vice president of Fennville Recyclers, a small operation at 2315 53rd St. in Clyde Township. “All good things come with negatives.”
The law requires a scrap metal dealer not to pay a seller more than $25 directly in cash, but instead use a check, money order or electronic payment with a photo of the seller. The dealer must also take a thumbprint of the seller.
The scrap metal dealer must also maintain a record of each transaction and keep it for at least a year.
“It’s added logistics,” said Todd Jousma, director of retail yards at Louis Padnos Iron & Metal Company in Holland. “To comply with the law and meet customer service needs, a lot of programs had to be modified.”
The company had to add some cameras, for example, to make sure it photographed all the incoming loads, he said.
State Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township, who supported the bill, said she has not heard any complaints from constituents, whether a scrap metal dealer or a customer.
State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, pushed for tougher scrap metal laws for years and was a sponsor of the new law.
“I want lights in my city,” said Tlaib when the law was passed. “I don’t want to invest in those resources and turn around a week later and it’s gone.”
Many thefts of metal have struck utilities that deal in expensive metals for electricity and plumbing.
The Holland Board of Public Works has not had issues with thefts, but is aware of the possibility, according to Anne Saliers, communications and customer programs manager for the BPW.
“We would caution people from trying to steal material from utilities, just from the safety standpoint,” she added, because many of the metals are used with high-voltage operations.
“Metal is not cash,” she said. “It only becomes cash when the scrap dealers take them.”
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries worked with the Council of State Governments to study if the more than 51 bills passed into law throughout the country had any impact of reducing the crime.
“All 50 states have laws on the books dealing with metal theft crimes and all have differing regulations, requirements, penalties and other variables,” said Robin Wiener, president of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
More consistent data is needed to see if those laws, including Michigan’s, have had an impact, the recycling organization said.
Neither Allegan nor Ottawa sheriff’s offices break out metal theft as a separate category in their annual reports, but in July, Ottawa County apprehended several people trying to steal scrap metal from a concrete company in Spring Lake.
The recycling group keeps track of thefts on a nationwide level on scraptheftalert.com, allowing law enforcement and dealers to be on the look out for thefts.
In Michigan, for example, 50 pieces of aluminum sheet were stolen in Madison Heights on Sept. 13. The data base allows recyclers to watch for the material.
No thefts are listed from Allegan or Ottawa counties, though Kalamazoo County saw stainless steel pipe worth $2,000 stolen on Sept. 29.
Thieves have taken aluminum irrigation fittings in Wayne County, welding wire in Macomb County, a dozen Detroit Diesel engine flywheels weighing 1,800 pounds with an estimated value of $4,800. Even a Mustang car hood in Ingham County was taken by people wanting to sell it for scrap.
An antique cast iron doctor’s chair worth $1,000 was taken from Saint Joseph County on Sept. 29 and historical police call box doors, each weighing 2 to 3 pounds and worth a total of $1,600, were lifted from Willow Run Airport in Washtenaw County on Sept. 1.
Posted Oct. 15, 2014 @ 7:00 am