Bill takes aim at copper theft

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Area residents may find some relief from scrappers stealing copper and other metal objects from their homes, outbuildings and automobiles.

Senator David Sater, of Cassville, sponsored a bill signed by Gov. Jay Nixon last week that targets those who receive scrap metal by requiring additional documentation on persons bringing metal to those facilities. Additional information will include the individual's date of birth and gender and a photo of the seller.

The new bill also establishes new penalties for dealers who knowingly buy stolen metal.

"Scrap metal and copper theft is a very real problem throughout the state," Sater said. "Last Christmas, more than $10,000 worth of copper wire was stolen from a Christmas light display in Monett."

In 2010, air conditioning units, containing copper, were stolen from more than a dozen churches in Greene and Lawrence counties, costing one church more than $30,000.

Additionally, thefts have caused phone service and cell tower interruptions to thousands of customers, costing Greene County Sheriff's Office investigators approximately 300 hours in overtime in these cases.

"Metal theft continues to affect many of our communities and costs our neighbors, businesses, homeowners and churches," Sater said. "We need to give law enforcement the tools necessary to go after these criminals and our courts the means to punish those making it easier to commit these crimes."

"This bill is a good thing," added Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly. "Copper wire theft is one of the hardest to track once the wire is melted down. We are looking for those that bring in a lot of copper wire and are hoping this bill will serve as a deterrent to those both stealing metal and those knowingly purchasing the stolen items."

Epperly said copper wire thefts were on the rise in the area, simply because of the number of homes and businesses that are empty, allowing thieves plenty of opportunity to strike.

"It's very easy to tell if a homestead is empty, if no one is living there," Epperly said. "We're seeing thieves go in and rip wiring out of the walls, out of old chicken houses and barns. These thieves just don't care."

Epperly said with the local economy slowly rebounding, there are many people in the scrapping business.

The new bill also adds catalytic converters to the types of scrap metal requiring documentation.

"Senate Bill 157 will help our communities fight scrap metal and copper theft and will level the playing field for law-abiding metal dealers by going after those breaking the law," Sater said. "This is a big step in the right direction, but we need to continue looking for ways to protect property owners and businesses from metal theft."

The bill takes effect on Aug. 28.

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