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August 2006


Scrap dealers struggle to thwart thieves E-mail the author

Randy Katz receives reports of stolen scrap metal on a daily basis. “Every day there is a new issue,” said Katz, co-owner of City Scrap & Salvage Co. in Akron Ohio.

Thieves are taking everything from aluminum siding to copper wire and tubing from construction sites and production plants around the country. Scrap dealers are also often targets. “Prices are high and people are taking advantage of that,” Katz said.

Katz coordinates a theft alert system for the Northern Ohio chapter of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. Every time Katz receives a report of stolen scrap metal he forwards e-mails with information detailing the theft to other scrap metal dealers.

An alert went out in June detailing the theft of 30 newspaper vending machines that were stolen from the offices of The Gazette newspaper in Medina, Ohio. The metal boxes were awaiting shipment for refurbishing and each one weighed about 80 pounds.

City Scrap & Salvage, which operates a ferrous and non-ferrous scrap facility, has not had recent problems with theft, Katz said, due to a high-tech security system put in a few years ago. “We have a pretty good security system,” Katz said.

If a thief breaks into the scrap yard, the intruder will break a light beam, alerting a security company, which has the remote capability to focus a video camera on the intruder. The security company then is able to announce over a loudspeaker at the yard that the intruder has been spotted. The security company then calls the local police.

City Scrap & Salvage has also implemented a system to try and prevent thieves from selling it stolen material. City Scrap & Salvage requires anyone selling scrap to provide a driver’s license. It scans the license and automatically puts the name of the seller, along with his or her address, birthday and physical description on a receipt.

Katz said police like to have a physical description of every peddler that comes in. City Scrap & Salvage also writes a check for any transaction over $50. “When people are bringing in stolen merchandize they don’t like to leave a trail,” Katz said. “I think we deter a lot of stolen merchandise coming into our facility by our procedures.”

The stolen scrap-alert system also provides further prevention against theft, Katz said. “We need notification. If we, the scrap recyclers, don’t know it’s stolen and someone brings it in, we have no way of catching the guy. Notification is the key.” Katz said.

Information about the theft of stolen scrap metal is also forwarded to surrounding states, Katz said. “It is very possible that something will be stolen from Akron and end up in Pittsburgh. There is no saying what somebody might do to get it out of the region.”

The initiative was recently successful when some scrap metal was stolen in Solen, Ohio and taken to nearby Cleveland, Katz said. “The company that it was delivered to recognized the photos that I sent out and notified the authorities,” Katz said. “Come to find out it was one of the employees of this company stealing aluminum wire.”

It is difficult to track the amount of stolen scrap metal on a national basis, said Chuck Carr, a spokesperson for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) in Washington D.C. Carr coordinates the theft alert system on a national basis for the association.

“Unfortunately we don’t hear about many of the thefts,” Carr said. “Whenever we are contacted by one of our members or by law enforcement, we’re happy to put out the information, not only in the state where the theft occurred, but in all surrounding states.”

A theft reported this summer to ISRI included more than 100 metal plates in West Memphis, Arkansas. Thieves stole 8 pieces of 1-inch thick stainless steel plates, 72 inches by 120 inches. The theft also included 102 pieces of .250-inch aluminum plates, 68 by 160 inches, plus 9 pieces of ¾ inch carbon steel plates, 60 inches by 120 inches.

The problem of identifying stolen scrap is not due to an act of omission by the scrap industry, according to ISRI. In order to recycle vast quantities of scrap materials required by the industries that manufacture new products, members of recycling industry purchase, process and sell hundreds of thousands of tons of scrap every day. These scrap commodities consist of millions of separate items, making the identification of suspect items difficult because materials are purchased by weight, according to ISRI.

“We are seeing more scrap theft today then we have in the past,” Carr said. Scrap metal dealers are also often the victims of theft, Carr added. “If you’re looking to steal metal, where are you going to find more scrap metals than in a scrap yard?”

There are a number of things that can be done by scrap dealers to prevent theft, Carr said. In addition to security systems, yards may want to consider hiring guards. He said scrap yards should also gather as much information from the peddlers as possible.

Carr also advises members that it is important to notify police about metal theft.

Law enforcement agencies are stepping efforts as well. One example is the Joint Interagency Metals Task Force set up in the Portland, Oregon region. The task force is made up of the Portland Police Bureau, Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Linn County Sheriff’s Office, Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Energy/Office of Inspector General, Oregon State Department of Justice, and the Federal Protective Service.

Earlier this year, the United States Attorney for the District of Oregon indicted eight people for damaging and stealing metal from electric sub-stations owned by Portland General Electric and Bonneville Power Administration. Prosecutors accused the defendants of using bolt cutters, wire cutters and pole-climbing equipment to attack, dismantle and damage energy facilities in several Oregon locations. The task force estimates that the metal thefts caused millions of dollars in damage to Oregon’s economy.

“This is an issue that is of concern to law enforcement,” Carr said. Scrap metal theft “should be a concern with anybody within the recycling industry and it is up to us to play a part in solving the problem,” Carr added. “No reputable scrap dealers want to intentionally take stolen scrap. We want to find ways to reduce this problem.”

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