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ON THE PROWL FOR SCRAPS

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Homeowners beware: Thieves may be after more than your precious jewels and the money stashed under your bed. A wave of crime affecting cities across the country is theft of scrap metal.

The price of metals including copper and aluminum fluctuates, and when it’s high, people looking to fund drug use and other crimes risk their lives to get it. Headlines and police logs in many countries report thefts of aluminum siding, copper wire, metal grave markers, guard rails, downspouts, catalytic converters, gutters, radiators, AC coils and piping. While such theft is hardly new, the demand for scrap metal has driven prices up in recent years, making it a sought-after commodity.
And homeowners aren’t the only ones who need to be on the look-out. Construction sites, schools, churches and other buildings are also reporting such thefts.

RISK IMPLIES DESPERATION OF DRUG USERS

Drug users are always looking for new ways to fund their habit. Law enforcement authorities have long blamed a good deal of the scrap metal theft on drug users. And as the economy continues its down slope, they’re expecting such crime to multiply. Because stealing metals is risky, it often implies the kind of desperation that’s at the core of drug addiction.

A home in Girard, Oh. exploded earlier this year, ripping apart a neighborhood and injuring several people. Officials determined that gas was released when copper pipes were taken from the house. A man died last year in Pasadena, Md. after being electrocuted while cutting through a high-voltage line in an old store building on a quest for scrap metal.
A Cincinnati woman was arrested in November after trying to steal a vehicle to transport stolen scrap metal. She admitted being drunk and high on drugs. These stories represent only a minor fraction of the crimes taking place.

REGULATIONS AIM TO CUT DRUG CRIME

Drug addiction is a serious global problem. Millions of people are hooked on illicit street drugs, over-the-counter remedies and prescription drugs including OxyContin, Hydrocodone, Lortab and Vicodin.

Addiction and crime go hand-in-hand. The scrap metal business is attractive to users who rely on quick cash to fuel their habits. Because of this, many dealers have switched to paying by check. Many states and local governments have legislation in place or under consideration to regulate scrap metal sales. Some require dealers to wait a few days before selling purchased scrap metal, and some are required to keep detailed logs on the seller and the metals being bought.
In 2007, the Washington state governor signed a bill into law to regulate scrap metal sales to cut down on drug-related theft. Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, who sponsored the bill, said “This new law creates standards for exchanging scrap metal for cash, and will help cut down on drug crime.”

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