Whether it's a large haul of stainless steel pipe taken from
outside Yankee Stadium in New York or some scrap at a
construction site in rural West Virginia, metal thefts present
more than a supersized headache for the recycling industry.
A nationwide wave of metal thefts that began several years
ago has now moved way past the nuisance stage for most
recyclers. For some, it's turning into day-to-day trench
warfare in a battle against not only the thieves but also a
rising tide of new paperwork and record-keeping
In some areas, regional efforts by scrap companies to combat
thefts are paying off. The Middle Georgia Metal Theft Committee
is one example. The alliance of recyclers, other local
businesses and law enforcement officers has been credited by
Georgia police for several important arrests. In Macon alone,
metal thefts fell to just nine in 2008-when the regional
alliance was operating-from 84 the previous year.
There's general agreement in the industry that close
coordination with local law enforcement agencies is essential.
"We're seeing a number of significant success stories," said
Gary Bush, who heads the Metal Theft Prevention unit at the
Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI).
This coordination led to the arrest of two individuals in
Connecticut, according to Bush, citing a report filed with the
Brookfield Police Department last July by J. Frederick
Construction Co. about the theft of some 3,000 pounds of 8-inch
seamless stainless pipe in 4- to 5-foot lengths being used to
build "terrorist" barricades around the new Yankee Stadium in
Det. Stephen P. Coelho of the Brookfield Police Department
used ISRI's scrap theft alert system
(www.ScrapTheftAlert.com) to send out a theft
report on July 9 and seven days later received a call from
James Murphy at LaJoie's Auto & Scrap Recycling Inc. in
Norwalk, Conn., "telling me that he believed the stolen
material was being presented for sale" by two individuals.
"I e-mailed some photographs of the missing material, and he
told me this was definitely the stolen material," Coelho wrote
in a letter to Bush. He then went to Lajoie's Auto with the
owner of the construction company, who identified the material
involved along with another batch of stolen stainless plate
taken from outside the stadium. Fortunately, one of the
suspects, eager to escape when he figured out that police were
en route, "was kind enough" to leave his Connecticut driver's
license behind at the scrapyard. After some additional
investigation, the Brookfield police arrested two brothers and
charged them with second-degree larceny.
A similar scenario in the mountains of West Virginia
involved close coordination between Elkins Metal Recycling and
a local police department. Asked if metal thefts were a problem
at the medium-sized recycler, office manager Mandi Reams said,
"We actually had one incident here this morning. We first heard
that some metal was missing from a construction site just out
of town. Then these two guys came in to try to sell it. We had
to verify multiple things, and in the process we called the
police. We told them (the thieves) that our computer was down
so they stayed here (waiting for payment). They were actually
standing around here when the police arrived (and arrested
In California, Douglas Kramer, president of Kramer Metals
Inc., Los Angeles, believes the new series of metal theft
measures signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger "were
completely unnecessary." He said California "had a very good
law already on the books" before a series of new legislation
"Anytime when we are being put in a position of being held
responsible for someone else's crime .?.?. that's not right,"
he said in an interview. "The legitimate scrap industry has
never been one where people tolerate stealing. We are as much a
victim as a utility company or anyone else in this .?.?.
unfortunately, when scrap is stolen from scrapyards it's
completely impossible to determine where it came from or whose
property it is."
Kramer's biggest problem with the new set of California laws
isn't the paperwork burden, but rather the three-day hold on
materials and payment. "It tends to criminalize our customers,
and this is simply not right," he said. "Treating scrap
customers, good customers, like they are in a pawn shop; I
don't like that."
At Schupan Industrial Recycling in Kalamazoo, Mich., retail
operations manager Shay Schupan said the "combination of
Michigan's new metal theft law and the ISRI alert system"
helped his company catch thieves. "We had two young men bring
in new copper piping which was bent to fit into the trunk of
their vehicle," he said. "We asked them to fill out a material
documentation sheet and they had a lot of trouble with it. Our
buyer became suspicious because of (their) bad grammar (used on
the form) and just the way they were behaving."
Michigan's new Nonferrous Metals Regulatory Act, which took
effect last April, has a tag-and-hold provision, he said. "We
put a 'tag and hold' on it and two hours later an alert came in
via the ISRI system. The police followed up with a phone call
to make sure we got the alert, partly because they'd never used
the alert system before," Schupan said, noting that the
material matched the tag-and-hold alert and arrests followed
Asked if the new Michigan law was burdensome with its
paperwork requirements, Schupan said he'd found it "more
valuable" than not. "It has created a little more legwork but
it's helped out the police, enabling them to respond quickly to
these incidents, and there's definitely less room for scrap
dealers who aren't so honest. We make it a priority to have a
good standing relationship with all of the local authorities,"
he said, noting that they have been impressed with the alert
system and how easy and effective it can be.