With the price of scrap copper and other metals nearly tripling in four years, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer has introduced legislation to put metal thieves "behind ironclad bars."
"The price of metal is very, very valuable, and as a result, we have seen a great increase in the thievery of metal," Schumer said during a press conference Tuesday at the Utica Department of Public Works on Wurz Avenue.
"They go to the scrap yard, they hand in the metal, they get cash and nobody knows what’s happened."
Schumer said the number of metal thefts has been on the rise for years, especially in the City of Utica. The thieves are stealing manhole covers, street signs, copper wiring and metal pipes from both occupied and abandoned housing. He said thieves will steal pipes from gas and water lines even while both are still turned on, creating great hazard to homeowners, law enforcers and firefighters, not to mention the cost of repairing the damage.
"This is a problem we can actually solve," Schumer stated. "We need tough laws to help our police and fire break this."
Schumer’s proposed Metal Theft Prevention Act would require metal sellers to provide proof of ownership at the scrap yard; would require scrap yards to keep detailed records; would limit the cash sales to only $100, and pay by check for anything higher; and would make it a federal crime to steal metal from critical infrastructure.
The legislation is co-sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Schumer said it will be decided early next year.
"I think it’s really going to help. We think it’s the same people doing this. It’s essentially a living for them," explained Utica Police Sgt. Steven Hauck. "Pretty much any type of material they can turn into raw material, they steal."
Hauck said that thieves who steal items like manhole covers or street signs will hide those items in an entire truck full of scrap metal to hide those items from scrap yard employees. They are long gone by the time stolen items are found.
Hauck said the thieves will get maybe $40 to $50 for a manhole cover, but it costs the city roughly $400 to replace them.
The manhole cover thefts started in March, but Hauck said they have not yet had an instance where an unknowing person accidentally fell down an open manhole.
According to Schumer, the price of copper is $3.69.60 per pound, nearly three times the price when it was at its lowest on Dec. 24, 2008. The price of tin these days is $21,145 per ton, and aluminum is $1,935 per ton.
Rome Detective Commander Timothy J. Bates said that they still investigate the occasional metal theft in Rome, but the numbers today are not nearly as bad as they were four or five years ago.
"Any theft is a problem, but it’s certainly not the levels that it was," Bates said. Rome has not had any manhole cover thefts in years, he stated, and used to have a problem with thieves stealing copper wire and metal pipes from abandoned houses.
"I think there are several motivations. Some have been due to drug addiction, and there are plenty of individuals doing this for money, for income."