No metal thefts since new law went into effectPublished 8:32am Saturday, September 15, 2012
It’s been a little over a month since HB278, a bill aimed at reducing the theft of metal to sell at scrapyards, went into effect in Alabama.
From a law enforcement standpoint, it’s been so far, so good.
“We have had zero incidents of metal thefts since the law went into effect in August,” said Alexander City Police Chief Charles Rafford. “I think it has been excellent legislation for us so far.”
Rafford said in late 2011, high prices for scrap metal caused a spike in metal-driven thefts, which led the department to focus efforts on quashing the growing trend.
“Prior to this law being enacted, we had only five cases (this year) relating to metal theft because of the efforts of our detectives,” Rafford said. “We had already started to deter thefts, and this law just helped augment what we were already doing. It has really impacted the thieves’ ability to dispose of stolen metals.”
Scrap dealers, however, are far from enthusiastic about this law.
“I think it ought to be illegal what (the state legislature) is doing to us,” said Brad Spurlin, who owns Spurlin Recycling in Equality. “I don’t see how they can comfortably say what they have done is a positive thing.”
Spurlin said that in July, market price for metals increased $60 per ton, while volume across the state decreased 45 percent.
“In the history of the scrap business, there has never been a decrease in volume while there was such an increase in price,” Spurling said.
“You may have stopped the stealing, but you have stopped the hard-working man too. Honest people don’t like being treated like crooks, and this law has forced the scrap dealers to treat everyone like crooks.”
Though the law so far seems to be keeping metal-driven thefts at bay, Rafford said the law isn’t perfect. The new law requires recyclers describe all materials that they purchase, but Rafford said this section falls short of where he would like it to be.
“Metal recyclers use descriptive phrases such as No. 1, No. 2 copper or shreddable metal,” Rafford said. “That shreddable metal, however, may actually be your stolen lawn tractor. I would much rather see a full description of that item instead of the description ‘shreddable metal.’”
Rafford said the law does require the recycler to take photos of the material, which can prove beneficial to his detectives.
“They have to take pictures of the material they are buying, and our detectives can go back and look through their database to see these pictures,” Rafford said.
Soon, recyclers will be required to submit these photos and descriptions to the Alabama Criminal Justice Information System, an online database that detectives can access from their desks.
Spurlin said that the law may have an unintended consequence – from his standpoint, the new regulations are choking out scrap metal and in turn affecting one of Alabama’s only thriving industries. Spurlin said he knows of five scrap yards that have already closed their doors, yards he said were “mom and pop businesses that had been open for 25-30 years.”
“One of the only bright spots that this state has (economically) is the steel industry – we are also very rich with automotive industry, which is a steel industry product,” Spurlin said. “We are the ones who supply the steel industry in this state. Why would you choke out the two bright spots of our state economy?”