Competing city, county and state scrap metal theft legislation adds up to a shotgun approach that misses the target

Mar 01, 2010 | 04:38 AM | Martyn Chase

An extensive matrix of metal theft legislation pending in state legislatures contains a number of common themes, but also suggests something of a "crazy quilt" approach to the issue. Some of the proposed state measures apply only to copper, while others cover only scrap metal or all metals and materials.

States and cities across the United States are struggling to get a handle on the problem, with thefts ranging from several sets of aluminum bleachers at a Washington high school football field only blocks from the Capitol to guard rails along the scenic Pali Highway near Honolulu, to dangerous situations involving utility and power lines that in some cases has resulted in the death of the thief.

Unfortunately, the trend shows no signs of abating any time soon. The combination of higher metal prices and the worst economy since the Great Depression has brought all sorts of new opportunities for metal thieves. Catalytic converters containing palladium and platinum are being ripped out of vehicles; aluminum siding is being pulled off houses; and copper pipe and wiring is being stripped out of foreclosed homes in Detroit, Cleveland and many other distressed urban areas.

But state and local efforts to cope with the issue have been piecemeal at best. California took a number of seemingly significant steps at the end of 2008, with the state Assembly and Senate passing five separate pieces of legislation attempting to deal with the burgeoning problem there. Effective Jan. 1 this year, the nation's most populous state cracked down specifically on thefts of catalytic converters by mandating that metal recyclers maintain a paper trail on their purchases.....





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