Local scrap dealers declaring a 30-day moratorium on purchasing retail air-conditioners and parts is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't solve a greater enforcement and reporting problem statewide, according to one local attorney.

Local scrap dealers declaring a 30-day moratorium on purchasing retail air-conditioners and parts is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't solve a greater enforcement and reporting problem statewide, according to one local attorney.

Jeffrey McNealey, whose law firm, Porter Wright Morris and Arthur, represents the two Ohio chapters of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, said nothing stops thieves from crossing county lines and selling the materials.

"When we first started tracking thefts, we knew of this situation in southwestern Ohio, that the stolen merchandise appeared in Erie, Pa., the next day," he said. "That happened to be brass. We know the merchandise moves."

Ohio law requires that customers register with the scrap yards, creating a record-keeping system that links individuals with types of scrap metal sold and certain transaction data.

Central Ohio law enforcement has had a good relationship with the scrap yards, McNealey said. Some jurisdictions, however, do not have the manpower to utilize all of the data "and, unfortunately, some yards may not be as faithful as they should be in complying with the laws," he said.

"In these areas, there is a possibility for theft to seep into legitimate commerce," McNealey said.

George Speaks, deputy director for the Columbus Department of Public Safety, agreed that cross-jurisdictional scrapping poses a problem in areas with less sophisticated reporting methods. Columbus police, however, use electronic reporting.

"If an officer is searching for a specific item, they're able to identify that item via our computer system in a matter of seconds," he said. "In contrast, in places where the technology is not in place, there can be literally thousands of transactions recorded on paper. In order to investigate a particular transaction, law enforcement could spend hours upon hours - or days - trying to discover what we discover in Columbus in seconds."

The Columbus moratorium was voluntarily instituted last week, giving residents, businesses and churches an opportunity to mark their property with invisible ink, which is detectable under ultraviolet light.

The problem, according to Columbus police, is critical, as more than 400 air conditioners have been reported stolen since November.

McNealey said the cost of a stolen air-conditioner is enormous. While crooks net about $40 in copper from each unit, property owners often are out about $5,000.

Still, he said, the moratorium has value.

"We felt it was better to try than not to," he said.

Speaks also said the moratorium will be effective at some level.

"It creates hurdles," Speaks said. "And the more hurdles you create for thieves, the better. And some of these thieves do not have the wherewithal to drive to the rural part of the state to sell at a smaller scrap yard. Some of these thieves, in fact, don't drive, shown by the various shopping carts you see going to and from the scrap yards."

John Miller, vice president of I.H. Schlezinger Inc., one of the scrap yards participating in the moratorium, said his company is on board with the initiative.

"We're happy to help in any way we can," he said. "We want to be part of the solution, not the problem."

Miller said his yard purchases tens of thousands of tons of scrap metal per month but the copper from air-conditioners represents less than 1 percent of the sales.

"Yes, we want to buy this stuff but as far as volume goes, it's a very, very small part of the business," he said.