Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Legislation looks to curb stolen metal trade

TAMPA — For metal thieves in Florida, targets are everywhere.

They've hit homes, businesses, churches, construction sites, utilities, telephone companies and storage lots. They've ripped out copper wiring, dismantled air conditioning units and illegally scrapped manhole covers, stop signs, interstate guardrails, park benches, railroad ties and chain-link fences.

Now authorities hope they will get a new weapon in the battle against the surging thefts.

Two bills awaiting Gov. Rick Scott's signature would make it harder for people to sell stolen metals to recyclers, stopping a crime that can mean huge losses for property owners, advocates say.

"It's just hurt too many people — both in the pocketbook and with their loved ones," said Keyna Cory, a coordinator for Floridians for Copper and Metal Crime Prevention, which supported the legislation. "We think this is what we need to stop this crime."

The primary bill (HB 885/SB 540) creates statewide standards and a database for recording information about metal sales. It also increases penalties for metal theft and establishes a list of metals that can't be resold without proof of ownership.

"Why steal it if I can't sell it someplace?" asked Cory.

The legislation would require that metal recyclers take down sellers' information as well as information about the metal, such as a serial number. That information would be entered into databases shared by law enforcement.

It would create a list of 20 items, including manhole covers, funeral markers, storm grates and beer kegs, that can't be scrapped unless the seller can prove ownership or authority to sell the property. Payment for those items must come in check form — no cash.

The law also would make these requirements uniform across the state, instead of the existing patchwork of regulation at the county level, Cory said.

The penalty for metal recyclers who fail to keep proper paperwork would increase to a third-degree felony from a misdemeanor. That would be upped to a second-degree felony for third or subsequent violations.

People who steal metal from electrical substations would face a first-degree felony.

"We came together collectively to work on something to help solve the problem," said Rose Mock, president of Allied Scrap Processors in Lakeland and President of the Florida Recyclers Association.

Though not a perfect solution, she said, it's a step in the right direction. She also said that Florida recyclers took a proactive step to combating metal theft.

"People think that nobody's doing anything, but we are," she said. "We all are."

The changes would help local authorities regulate the industry better, said Hillsborough County Sheriff's Detective Dillon Corr, who investigates scrap metal cases.

"We're going to take away the outlet and, hopefully, that's going to reduce the metal theft," he said.

Metal theft has grown steadily in the past 10 years, spurred by rising prices and increasing demand from China and India, experts say. But the crime has increased dramatically with the economic downturn.

"It's basically a crime of last resort," Corr said.

He said scrapping offers a huge reward for little risk, attracting everyone from drug addicts to out-of-work electricians.

Metal thieves can cause far more damage getting the metal than it is worth at the scrap yard. The thefts can also have serious unintended consequences.

In September, a Miami pedestrian was struck and killed on a stretch of road left dark after metal thieves stripped copper from the streetlights, according to Floridians for Copper and Metal Crime Prevention Coalition.

The Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative, serving west-central Florida, suffered more than $300,000 in metal theft-related damage in 2011, the coalition reported.

Although not all law enforcement agencies track metal-related thefts, some have reported large jumps. Clearwater, for example, saw metal thefts jump from 59 in 2010 to 169 in 2011.

It's hard to know exactly how big of a problem metal thefts are across the state. Or how much they do in damage.

"I think that we would be closer to billions," said Cory.

Legislation looks to curb stolen metal trade 03/25/12 [Last modified: Sunday, March 25, 2012 10:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. PolitiFact: Fact-checking Samantha Bee on Florida felonies

    State Roundup

    Comedian Samantha Bee traveled to Florida, where she says "retirees and democracy go to die," to shed light on how the state makes it difficult for felons to regain the right to vote.

    Samantha Bee hosts Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS. Bee portrayed some of Florida’s felonies as not so serious on her show.
  2. For some, Memorial Day comes around more than just once a year


    ST. PETERSBURG — It is shortly before nine on a Friday morning, and the heat is already approaching unbearable levels at Bay Pines National Cemetery.

    Iles carefully digs up the St. Augustine grass so that it will continue to grow when it is placed back on the gravesite. He tries not to disturb the root base.
  3. State budget uncertainty has school districts 'very concerned'


    While waiting for Gov. Rick Scott to approve or veto the Legislature's education budget, the people in charge of school district checkbooks are trying hard to find a bottom line.

    It has not been easy.

    The unsettled nature of Florida’s education budget has left school districts with questions about how they will make ends meet next year. []
  4. Ernest Hooper: Removing Confederate symbols doesn't eliminate persistent mindset

    Human Interest

    The debate has begun about removing a Confederate statue from outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse, and its removal is long overdue.

    Robert E. Lee Elementary, 305 E. Columbus Drive in Tampa, originally opened its doors in the early 1910s as the Michigan Avenue Grammar School. [Times file]
  5. What you need to know for Monday, May 29


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    In the weeks before Memorial Day, cemetery caretaker Gary Iles and the staff at Bay Pines National Cemetery are busy preparing the sprawling property for the annual ceremony honoring the fallen. Iles, an Army veteran who started out as a volunteer at Bay Pines, says working at the cemetery is a way for him to continue serving those who died for their country. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]