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Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012 01:05 pm

Bill aims to stop copper and scrap metal thieves

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Pictured are pipes that have been vandalized for their copper.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SANGAMON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE

Legislation to make it harder for thieves to receive payment for stolen copper and scrap metal passed through the Illinois House Judiciary Committee Feb. 8.

House Bill 3825, which was originally filed in October 2011 before being amended, is a bill designed to make it harder for thieves of copper and scrap metals to sell the stolen goods to recyclable metal dealers, while also placing responsibility on the metal dealers to keep accurate records of all purchases of recyclable metals.

The bill would require dealers to keep records of all purchases of recyclable metal, rather than previously only keeping records for values greater than $100, while also increasing the time from two to three years that these records will be kept. A scrap metal thief would not only be charged for the value of the stolen metal, but also the damage done to the property it came from.

The bill states that a recyclable metal dealer can be charged if they knowingly accept scrap metals that are clearly marked as property of a business, government entity, utilities or railroads, such as guardrails, manhole covers, street signs or cemetery plaques.   

In August, 2011, Springfield aldermen approved a plan requiring scrap metal recyclers to keep detailed records of every purchase of scrap metal, which included receiving the seller’s driver’s license number, description of materials being sold, amount paid to seller and the origin of the materials. The Sangamon County Board approved the same plan at a meeting in September, 2011.

Joseph Ciaccio, president of the Illinois Railroad Association, said he supports the legislation because it places added responsibility on the recycled metal dealers.

“There are pretty stiff penalties (for the thieves and the dealers) within the bill that range from a misdemeanor to a felony,” Ciaccio said. “

If found guilty, thieves of scrap metals and recyclable metal dealers will face a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class 4 felony for the second or subsequent offense.

Additionally, the bill would restrict the purchase and sale of certain metals without documentation of ownership. The recyclable metal dealer would also not be able to pay cash at the time of the transaction. Instead they would be required to pay by check or money order to the seller.

Rep. Mike Unes, R-East Peoria, chief sponsor of the bill, said that over the past year the theft of copper and scrap metal has become a statewide problem, which has affected various types of businesses.

“We needed a very comprehensive approach to fixing a real problem in Illinois and this bill will fix it.” Unes stated in a press release on Feb. 8. “Since introducing this bill in October, I have shown due diligence in tracking this issue very closely and the damage that copper theft has caused is startling.”

Unes, who represents the 91st district, which includes Tazewell, Fulton and Peoria counties, cited an example of copper theft by explaining the story of Whiteside County farmer Scott Weber.

During the night of Feb. 2, the copper wiring on Weber’s farm irrigation system was cut and stolen, rendering the system useless until repaired. The value of the stolen copper was worth about $1,000, but Weber estimated that the repairs to the irrigation system would cost around $10,000.

“Copper thieves have proven they are not slowing down, and it is pertinent that this issue be addressed as soon as possible,” Unes said.

Springfield Police Department Deputy Chief Cliff Buscher said that since 2011 there have been about 283 copper thefts in Springfield, which have resulted in 15 copper theft-related arrests.

Buscher said that over the past year he has heard of various reports of copper thefts in Springfield.

“They (copper thieves) hit a lot of air conditioning units that they take the copper pipe out, as well as the copper going from the house to the unit,” Buscher said. “We have also had reports of vacant houses and rental properties, where they break into the crawlspace or the basement and cut the copper off of the pipes, which if the water is on, can result in flooding. They have also been known to take the ground-wires off of utility poles.”

HB 3825 passed the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 11-0.

Contact Neil Schneider at nschneider@illinoistimes.com.

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