CLEARWATER — Metal thefts more than doubled in the past year and have increased five-fold since 2009, police said Wednesday.
The surge has prompted changes in the way metals can be bought and sold.
Anyone spotted with large amounts of metal will have to explain where it came from, police said.
Thieves targeting valuable metals have left thousands of dollars in damage in their wake.
Thieves have targeted metal in a wide variety of forms, including air conditioning units for copper parts, storm gates, scrap aluminum, metal water meter pieces, copper plumbing and copper rolls, police said.
And it's not just Clearwater. This uptick in metal thievery has been widespread throughout the Tampa Bay area.
Clearwater police plan to target vehicles carrying large loads of metal. The metal could be seized if the owner cannot explain where it came from, police said. The owner also could be charged with unlawful appropriation of lost or stolen property, said police spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts.
"If you're toting a large load of metal or air conditioning parts in your vehicle and you're headed to a recycling center, you better be able to tell us how you got it and from where," said police chief Anthony Holloway in a prepared statement. "We see too many people who cannot account for their metal cargo and that is no longer an acceptable excuse."