I read an item today from the Charleston Daily Mail that had me shaking my head in disbelief and even frightened me.
The item was about recent thefts in West Virginia of catalytic converters, which are being sold by thieves to scrap metal dealers. Many are being taken from Jeeps. This frightened me, because I drive a Jeep. Apparently, Jeeps are a popular target, because it's relatively easy for thieves to slide under them and rip off the converter.
What also frightens me is the thought that some scrap dealers might readily accept any and all metal presented to them without compunction, and that these scrap dealers could be giving others a bad name.
The West Virginia legislature recently approved a law aimed at cutting down on rampant theft of copper wire from mines and utility poles. Commenting on the thefts, Detective P.C. Rader said the paperwork that recyclers have to cope with because of the new legislation is a deterrent.
"Customers have to show a photo ID and sign a waiver saying the property isn't stolen," he said. "The information is recorded and kept for law enforcement to look over. All the recycling businesses are on alert for anything that looks suspicious. They know what to look for, and they are good at getting information."
However, the Charleston Daily Mail also quoted Mike Halstead, owner of Charleston's Capitol Recycling, who said the new law has only served to create more paperwork for him and his employees. He believes the penalty for stealing metal needs to be stiffened.
"[Thieves] get fined and then they have to steal more to pay the fines," Halstead said.
OK, we all can agree that stopping theft is the ideal solution, and we applaud ethical scrap dealers who follow the law to the letter and ask for and record all necessary documentation, even if doing so is a pain in the butt and really doesn't deter theft. But what can be done about unscrupulous scrap dealers?
Michigan enacted legislation in January 2007 intended to make unscrupulous dealers clean up their acts. The legislation (HB-6599) expands licensure requirements and makes it a felony for junk dealers and scrap metal processors to accept material that they know is stolen, subject to up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, depending on the source of the stolen material. The bill also imposes new recordkeeping requirements on these dealers, including a mandate that they record the fingerprint of a person selling scrap metal, and where the scrap was obtained.
Maybe I'm missing something, but I think it could be difficult to prove a dealer knows scrap is stolen. And I also think that ethical dealers can be duped by crafty thieves. I hope law enforcement has a good plan for making sure everything is kosher.
I also hope that automotive engineers are looking for ways to make catalytic converters and other metal parts more difficult to steal, and I'm keeping my Jeep parked in the garage, not in the driveway.
If you're in the scrap metal business, please share your ideas about what can be done to curtail metal theft and deter unscrupulous dealers from accepting stolen metal. How do you confirm to your satisfaction that metal is not stolen?