Senator Wants to Make Stealing Scrap Metal A Federal Offense
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"They're mostly crackheads, drug addicts,” said Bob Frank. "They just come out and they're going to continue to do it because they need their fix."
Bob Frank figures most of the stuff brought to his Portland Avenue Scrap yard is legitimate, but police say a growing number of burglaries in the city are pulled off for scrap metal.
"We're in the business to buy metal. We don't want to buy stolen metal. If it looks like somebody took a memorial plate or whatever, you don't take that stuff."
Theft of scrap metal is getting the attention of federal lawmakers.
"It's not just downtown, it's in the suburbs. It's not just one type of metal, it's so many types of metal,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, (D).
Schumer wants to make it a federal offense to loot homes, businesses, even city streets for scrap.
"You gotta go after everybody. It's like drugs, and with strong federal enforcement you can go after the bad guys who can often go on the move and cross city and county lines," Schumer said.
In pilfering for copper, aluminum, and steel, some thieves are showing a lot of brass; stealing light poles and manhole covers.
"Whenever we see manhole covers, sewer grates, we put them aside, call the city and tell them to come pick them up,” Frank said.
The cap on a city water line outside Frank's scrap yard is gone. An explosion that leveled a vacant house on Maple Street was linked by fire investigators to a gas leak caused by a stolen gas meter.
"That is not just robbery, that's danger,” said Schumer.
Other examples: Steel was stolen from the Midtown construction site. Thieves have grabbed fencing from other projects, but Frank says he won't take those kind of things.
"It doesn't surprise me."
Schumer intends to target not only scrap thieves. The proposed law would also regulate scrap dealers.
Schumer's proposal would require scrap sellers to provide proof of ownership to recyclers, who would be limited to paying no more than $100 to people who bring in scrap. Stealing from utilities and looting infrastructure would become a federal offense.
"People are going gung ho, literally taking apart air conditioners when people aren't home, taking brass rails off county buildings, they're doing anything and everything they could to get metal,” said Nick Massa, scrap metal collector. "It's actually getting a little out of control."
Frank says it's not realistic to expect already busy police to stop every theft, but the legislation is a start.
"The majority of thefts are drug related, and the problems are there's no teeth in the law. These people go in and they come out,” said Frank.