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New Legislation Passed to Protect Infrastructure, Prevent Scrap Metal Theft

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Railroad ties, street signs and highway guard rails – upon glancing at this brief list, it might not appear that these items have very much in common. Lately, however, thieves have found a common link between these things and more like them: they can all be stolen and sold as valuable scrap metal.

The Ohio Department of Homeland Security has declared that theft of scrap metal is such a large-scale problem that it poses a threat to the state’s infrastructure system. In response to the growing dilemma, state legislators passed a law that will help keep track and regulate the sale of scrap metal.

“What is particularly offensive about scrap metal theft is the disproportionate cost of the property damage done by thieves in comparison to the value of the metal they steal,” said State Sen. Bill Seitz in a March press release.

Seitz introduced the legislation, known as Senate Bill 193, after a local sheriff informed him of the problem and its potential threats to state infrastructure.

The bill was signed into law in June. It will require all scrap metal dealers to register in an online database so that the government can better keep track of it and take note of any disappearances.

Lieutenant Anne Ralston, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Homeland Security, said that this has been a problem for quite some time and that it can lead to even more serious crimes.

“We know that the thieves are out stealing these materials for various reasons, obviously to get money, but they…are using that money for a variety of different things. They could be using it in the drug trade…and usually one crime leaves to another,” Ralston said.

Failure to provide accurate records, stealing scrap metal, or knowingly accepting stolen scrap metal will all be counted as felonies of the fifth degree, according to the Ohio Department of Homeland Security’s website.

One of the most popular sources of scrap metal is the valuable copper that comes from communication lines. Thieves will throw a rope over the lines and drive away in a car with the other end of the rope in order to pull down miles of wire at a time, thus enabling them to access the valuable copper inside.

However, some other sources of scrap metal – most of them common objects – are much easier to obtain.

“It may seem kind of strange, but people steal grocery carts…metal markers in cemeteries, and other historical markers. People steal those and try to turn them into scrap,” Ralston said.

And how, exactly, do they go about doing that?

“[Thieves] burn excess materials [on stolen objects] to get to the metal on the inside,” she said. “A key for anyone who is receiving [the scrap metals] is that if they’re burnt, you don’t want to take those materials.”

The most recent documented case of theft in Ohio occurred at the end of October in Belmont County. Three individuals were arrested for stealing a fire escape from a construction site and charged with theft and criminal trespassing.

Lawmakers hope that the passage of S.B. 193 will deter thieves and help prevent crimes such as this.

“This legislation adds another tool for law enforcement officers to use to catch these criminals as well as hold scrap metal dealers accountable,” Seitz has said.

Ralston agrees, expressing confidence that the law will be effective. “We’ve known that this has been a problem for some time and we’re taking steps here in the state of Ohio to crack down on that.”
The first part of the law – requiring all scrap metal dealers to register with the online database – goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2013. Lawmakers and government officials are confident that it will help solve the problem, but whether or not the new system is effective remains to be seen.

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