Making copper a tougher metalPublished 9:37pm Saturday, December 17, 2011
Those who lead local charities will tell you the need is year round, not just during the holidays.
Those who lead charities will tell you the giving — while much appreciated during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons — is something that is needed throughout the year.
And, those who lead local charities will tell you the level of giving has decreased, the level of need has increased and the room built into local budgets has grown much, much smaller, which makes what happened in late September and again in October to the Selma Area Food Bank much worse.
The charity was unfortunately was struck twice in just over a month by thieves stealing or destroying their cooler units, seeking copper wiring. In the September incident alone, the food bank suffered more than $6,000 in damage.
“This is not something we plan for or expect,” food bank executive director J.D. Parks said just days after the September theft. “This really is something that hurts.”
He went on to say that the money the charity was looking at spending to replace the units could have been spent to buy 127,000 pounds of food, a figure that could have helped prepare nearly 160,000 meals.
“And all of this for about $8 of scrap copper,” Parks said.
Unfortunately the two incidents at the food bank are not alone, they are not the exception, they are the rule and state legislators are hoping to provide police authorities the tools they need to put up a better fight.
“It’s a big problem,” Selma Chief of Police William T. Riley said. “The theft of copper leads to so many problems for residents and business owners. There is just so much damage caused to property for just a few dollars worth of copper. At times you’re looking at $5,000 in air conditioning damage for maybe, maybe $50 worth of copper.”
For Sgt. John Hatfield with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, the issue is just as big a problem, but they see damage in homes that are left vacant.
“We see where houses have been broken into, the wiring stripped, and the owners of the house not knowing about the theft for days or weeks,” Hatfield said. “That makes our job of finding the copper and the thieves, much harder.”
Both Riley and Hatfield agreed vacant homes have become a key target for copper thieves because property owners don’t visit their properties every day.
“We do try to focus attention on checking on the vacant properties we know of,” Riley said. “We need owners to check on their properties more often.”
The two agencies were also quick to compliment local scrap yards and recycling facilities – those who buy scrap copper — for working with law enforcement when called upon.
“Our local folks do a good job of getting the ID information from those they are buying copper from and we have been called when they think they have received questionable items,” Hatfield said.
According to media reports, Alabama state Sen. Ben Brooks (R-Mobile), plans to introduce legislation during the next legislative session that would place stronger requirements on scrap metal buyers and increase penalties on thieves, making certain violations a felony.
The bill reportedly would also require buyers to pay for copper purchases, regardless of value, with a check; provide an electronic record of the purchase, including seller’s identification, to law enforcement within 24 hours; hold scrap copper for three business days after purchase, among others.
In a report by al.com in September, Brooks attempted to introduce similar legislation during the last legislative session, but the legislation failed to move forward and was opposed by members of the recycling industry.
Chip Koplin, a regional government and public relations manager for Schnitzer Southeast, a company who has a recycling facility in Selma, said in a message the company did not want to comment on the proposed legislation.
“It would be premature for us to comment on this proposed legislation,” Koplin said. “We might be able to comment further, likely in mid-January, if the legislation is pre-filed.”
Riley said the proposed bill would be very welcomed by local law enforcement, especially the requirement on scrap buyers to pay any purchase with a check.
“Sometimes, these folks who have stolen copper don’t want to have a paper trail, they don’t want to have to go somewhere else to get their money,” Riley said.
“Those who are looking at copper as a quick way to get cash, just want to go and get their money and go and buy their drugs if that is what they want,” Hatfield said. “You see at times a home that has $15,000 worth of damage because someone broke in and stole $15 worth of copper. And, that is about what a crack rock can go for.”