WEST BOUNTIFUL, Utah – Some stolen metal was recently recovered after a recycling business that purchased the goods learned about the theft and contacted authorities, and a state senator said he is exploring new ideas for legislation aimed at reducing metal thefts, which he said have become, "an epidemic."
Construction materials, copper wire and even bronze statues are the targets of metal thieves, and frequent news stories about metal thefts often highlight the suspicion much of the takings are sold to scrap yards or recyclers for quick cash.
While there are already some laws and voluntary agreements in place regulating the industry, State Senator Todd Weiler said he is exploring some new ideas as well. His remarks come after a recent crime made headlines.
Surveillance video from a metal theft at a West Bountiful trucking company was made public last week after 16 aluminum rims worth about $6,000 were taken.
“We noticed we had a problem Friday morning,” said Kate Walton of Ralph Smith Company.
Twelve of those rims were sold to Wasatch Recycling the next day for their scrap value: $400 cash. But before the man selling the rims left, Wasatch collected essential information.
“We are gathering the photo identification of every customer that sells us metal, we are gathering the make and model of their vehicle, all the transactions are under surveillance,” said Chris Bond of Wasatch Metals.
Bond said those precautions are part of a voluntary plan the Utah Attorney General's Office came up with years ago, which also includes businesses getting bulletins from police.
“We probably get five or six updates a week, just on various theft items,” Bond said.
One of those updates proved to be a boon for Ralph Smith Company.
“On Saturday we got a call that they had purchased the wheels, and they provided all the information they needed to the West Bountiful Police Department,” Walton said. “I think they have a suspect.”
Police said they anticipate some arrests in this case soon, but they said it’s not always as easy. Todd Hixson, Chief of the West Bountiful Police Department, said not every metal recycling business is as helpful as Wasatch has been.
“Some are very easy …others, they want to give the bare minimums, if help out at all,” he said.
Weiler said the rash of thefts is likely a symptom of another problem.
“It’s an epidemic of people stealing these valuable metals and running down to get some cash,” he said. “Many of these people are drug addicts.”
Weiler said he believes if the opportunity to sell metals for quick crash dried up, there might be fewer thefts, so he suggests implementing a delay.
“Instead of having them pay cash immediately, making them wait, maybe three business days to receive the payment,” he said. “…maybe they'll have to come back, or get a check in the mail, something like that.”
But Bond said that may be much easier said than done.
“We don't want to issue checks to thieves, we really don't,” he said. “We don't want those people to have access to important information for our business. Also, we're not talking about 10 or 15 customers a day, we're talking about hundreds, if not thousands, in a week.”
Weiler said he wants to do something that's common sense and practical that doesn't create an undue burden for the industry. He said they are at the start of what will be a lengthy process, but he said he may have a draft of something ready by the time the legislature holds their next session in 2016.