German Village Gazette

Laws mitigate scrap-metal thefts, expert says


State and local law-enforcement agencies have made a dent in illegal scrap-metal sales, but some thieves continue to operate in the underground market, said Jeff McNealey who is on the battlefront.

McNealey, an attorney representing the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, told a German Village crowd new laws which took effect Jan. 1 have made it harder on thieves trying to make a quick buck cashing in pilfered metals at area scrap yards.

One new law in particular, said McNealey, who was addressing an audience at the April 25 German Village police luncheon, requires that all scrap yards register with the state of Ohio.

Although, McNealey said, a larger truck selling metal for resale can be technically considered a "scrap yard."

"A lot of people are flying under" the radar, McNealey said. "We need to get them registered."

Since 2008, Columbus has ramped up its efforts to curb illegal scrap-metal sales.

But other statewide laws that will be enacted over the next year will help keep thieves from selling the material in other jurisdictions.

For example, as of Jan. 1, 2014, scrap-metal dealers will be required to report transactions via an electronic-transaction reporting system maintained by the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

Furthermore, access to those systems will become more widely available for all police cruisers.

Stealing scrap metal is more than a costly nuisance for homeowners, it's a homeland-security threat, McNealey said.

Thieves can target railroad tracks, bridges and telecommunications material.

On a local level, crooks go after manhole covers and aluminum light poles. But, generally, criminals are looking to make a quick buck to feed their addictions.

Wrought-iron gates, gutters, air-conditioning units components and copper insulation are frequent targets for scofflaws.

And, in many instances, there's little homeowners can do to protect themselves because it is nearly impossible to mark identifying characteristics on those items, he said.

However, property owners can protect themselves by marking assets whenever possible, securely attaching material to a building or house and reporting crimes when they happen.

Amanda Ford, spokesman for the Columbus Department of Public Safety, said scrap-metal thefts have decreased because of the significant expansion of the "do not buy from convicted thieves" list, which grew from 2,000 to 22,000 names from Franklin and surrounding counties.

Air-conditioning unit thefts have fallen consistently in the first quarter of each year since 2011, which averaged 79 thefts per month.

In 2013, first-quarter thefts are down to an average of 37 per month, Ford said.

"We are working hard to bring down this number even more," said Ford, who did not attend the meeting in German Village.