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April 2007

Scrap recyclers: secure your yards!

As the theft of valuable metals continue to skyrocket, many in the public believe that scrap yards knowingly accept stolen metals. This is usually not the case. Scrap thieves are now breaking into scrap yards and re-selling the material they have stolen to the establishment that they just robbed.

Dennis Laviage, the owner of C & D Scrap Metal Recyclers in Houston, Texas has been targeted by various groups of thieves since last April for a total of 11 break-ins that he is aware of.

Security has become an essential factor in the scrap metal business.

“They kept breaking in, we kept patching fences,” he says. “We had an off-duty police officer sitting in my office nightly on certain days and we finally caught one of them who hit me at least five or six times. He was taking my scrap and selling it to other scrap yards and also back to us.”

This individual is now serving a two-year sentence. But despite the arrest, the yard was broken into again by a trio who tore up Laviage’s office before Houston police officers arrived.

“I don’t have a clue what they took, but I do know that one gun was taken,” he said. “On another occasion, five thieves entered the yard – they ripped the back of my warehouse like a can opener, creating a hole big enough to drive a car through.”

Now Laviage has off-duty Harris County sheriff on patrol nightly and has spent nearly $200,000 to secure his yard. This includes 11 new surveillance cameras to bolster the 6 he already has; 10-foot steel perimeter fencing surrounding the facility, crowned by barbed wire; and a 30-foot high lighting system that illuminates the yard as if it were a baseball field.

“I literally have a jail around my company,” he says.

Laviage, who has been in the business for 35 plus years, and in business for himself 28 years, runs one the larger scrap yards in the Houston. He estimates that he is spending $10,000 per month on security.

“It will keep me from going out of business,” he says. “I would think that with the prices of metal these days, as high as they are, [(robberies, burglaries] are happening to all of us. The situation is not going to get any better. Every time prices go up, theft rates rise.”

Laviage, who stresses that his company does not buy anything without the seller providing a driver’s license or government issued identification, opposes a proposed amendment to a Houston bylaw that would require scrap yards to implement the following measures when purchasing materials – record, tag, place a seven-day hold on items and to take a thumbprint of each seller.

The measure was introduced by counsilor Adrian Garcia, a member of the city’s Public Safety and Homeland Security committee.

Garcia believes that such measures will help to add to the information that the police are already collecting and would further encourage scrap yards to be more discerning and vigilant.

“They should be using pictures of the person, of what they are selling and use copies of government ID,” says Laviage. “I have all of that. This way we are not holding onto materials for seven days. A seven-day hold is unreasonable. I buy 200 to 250 tons of scrap per-week, not including ferrous metals.”

Other amendments would include making it mandatory for yards to share the names of the sellers and the materials they brought in with the Houston Police Department on a daily basis and require scrap dealers to file a bond when submitting license applications, as well as an increase license renewal fees.

Scrap dealers in Houston no longer have an official voice and currently lack the ability to develop a consensus on regulatory issues. The Houston Metal Processors and Recyclers, while alive in name, has not convened a meeting in seven years.

“We need a vigorous lobby to defend our interests,” says Laviage, who estimates that there are over 100 scrap dealers of varying sizes in the Houston area.

The thefts in Houston caught the attention of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), who met with Laviage and city officials.

Garcia has visited Laviage’s facility and told him that the city wants to work with the scrap yard industry.

ISRI is concerned about the risks that thieves are willing to take to engage in metal thefts and ramifications to the public in terms of general and essential services and infrastructure systems as a whole.

“Stealing materials, especially from utilities, carries extreme risk to the thief, to emergency personnel and to the public,” says ISRI president Robin Wiener.

Thieves have even resorted to taking cables from railroad switches and signal lights, key elements of public safety.

ISRI is working with the National Crime Prevention Council to help educate law enforcement officials about the industry and the tools ISRI has developed and has made available to support law enforcement, such as the Scrap Theft Alert system -

Police are often hindered by the fact that much of the stolen materials have no markings, and that a good percentage of this material is exported.

Internationally the scrap metal industry is valued at $85 billion, a sum that has tripled since 2003.

To help scrap dealers identify suspect materials and thieves, ISRI’s Scrap Theft Task Force has provided recommendations in a document titled Recommended Practices and Procedures for Minimizing the Risks of Purchasing Stolen Scrap Materials.

“These recommendations show the commitment from scrap dealers to do their part to solve the scrap theft problem,” says Shelley Padnos, vice president of Louis Padnos Iron & Metal Co. in Holland, Michigan, who chairs the theft task force.

The recommendations include: building working relationships with local law enforcement, get identification from the seller, make payment by methods other than cash, capture transactions on video surveillance, and prohibit certain items such as new production material or items used only by governments and utility companies and train employees to identify suspicious materials.

For more information on these practices, go to

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