Incidences of metal theft continue to increase, as do efforts to combat this alarming phenomenon. At the beginning of the year, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) unveiled their new Law Enforcement Advisory Council, a group of law enforcement and security professionals tasked with advising the ISRI on creating programs to address metal theft.
In an ISRI press release, ISRI president Robin Wiener stated, “The recycling industry has long been on the front lines as part of the solution to metals theft, working closely with local law enforcement and prosecutors to deter crime and creating a nationwide scrap theft reporting system to help in the investigation and capture of thieves. The establishment of the Law Enforcement Advisory Council is part of an even more advanced, comprehensive approach by the industry to address the problem of metals theft through training and greater outreach efforts.”
The problem is in fact so great that the ISRI hosts ScrapTheftAlert.com, a portal for law enforcement to alert the scrap industry of significant thefts of materials in the United States and Canada. As previously reported in this blog, examples of reported metal theft include copper wire from electrical infrastructure or even power lines, metal railroad tracks, church bells, pieces of airport runways, air conditioners, beer kegs, manhole covers, statues, and an ever-increasing list of items containing metal, in particular, copper. The majority of these crimes are driven by the high price of copper and many are perpetrated by people looking to sell the metal to support drug habits.
Pennsylvania state legislature was considering a new metal theft bill largely in response to such an incident in which three people were arrested for stealing thousands of dollars of copper and brass from one metal recycling facility and selling it to another. Senate Bill 688 would make the theft of “secondary metals” (copper, aluminum and other metals)” as well as wire, pipe or cable used in utility or transportation infrastructure, that “is valuable for recycling or reuse as raw material” a criminal offence and impose tougher penalties on those convicted.
To give you an idea of the scope of this problem, as of December 2013, all but one state had implemented laws intended to combat the growth in metals theft over recent years and during 2013, 29 states enacted new legislation. Such laws may impose stiffer penalties, require scrap yards to ID and photograph sellers or take other measures to document the sale such as entering transaction details into online databases, or all of these measures. One scrap yard in Ohio is taking it even a step further by conducting video surveillance of potential transactions. Ohio leads the nation in metals theft, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s 2013 Metal Theft Report, which sites a 36% increase in reports of metal theft, especially copper, during 2010-2012 compared with claims reported during the period 2009 to 2011. Ohio, like other states, plans to start up a statewide database of scrap yard sales information.
As more theft legislation passes, scrap metal recyclers will experience new pressure to vet the people they buy from in addition to their existing concern for verifying the composition of the metals they sell. On the material verification front at least, there is a clear answer. XRF technology is an indispensible tool for accurate, reliable material identification. XRF can verify elements of interest in virtually all types of metal alloys, from trace levels to commercially pure metals. Handheld XRF analyzers are increasing the speed at which scrap metal operations can process metals, and are capable of distinguishing alloy grades that are nearly identical in composition to one another.
Have you been affected by metal theft, or are you a scrap metal recycler struggling to make sense of the flurry of new laws? We welcome questions or comments about your experiences.