Strug­gle against metal theft wrought with frus­tra­tion

Lo­cal re­cy­clers try to dis­cour­age theft with­out hurt­ing bot­tom line

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Michelle Kim

In try­ing to find a way to stop the scourge of metal theft, there is plenty of frus­tra­tion to go around.

Some home builders ex­pressed frus­tra­tion at re­cy­cling cen­ters in New­ton County and at law en­force­ment for not mon­i­tor­ing the sal­vage yards and records more closely.

“(Builders) are a lit­tle dis­gusted with the re­cy­cle places that don’t alert au­thor­i­ties, be­cause they’re not help­ing things,” said An­drea Ham­mond, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the New­ton County Home Builder’s As­so­ci­a­tion.

But re­cy­clers and lawen­force­ment have their own frus­tra­tions as well.

Scrap metal has no iden­ti­fy­ing num­bers, like a car or an en­gine, and a piece of stolen scrap metal can be im­pos­si­ble to dis­tin­guish from a legally ob­tained piece of scrap metal, re­cy­clers and law en­force­ment point out.

“It’s hard as heck to tell where a piece of wire comes from,” said Brian Cloud, one of the own­ers of Oconee Metal Re­cov­ery in Cov­ing­ton, which sees any­where from 150 to 250 peo­ple a day bring­ing in all kinds of scrap metal.

The key, said Cov­ing­ton Po­lice De­part­ment De­tec­tive Daniel Seals, is in the record keep­ing and co­op­er­a­tion.

State laws are very thor­ough and de­tailed about the records re­cy­clers are re­quired to keep, said Seals and the lo­cal cen­ters have been keep­ing bet­ter records in re­cent years.

Two years ago, an owner and em­ployee of the Oconee Metal Re­cov­ery cen­ter were ar­rested and charged with fail­ing to main­tain records as re­quired by state law.

“ Be­fore our ‘ crack­down,’” said Seals, “ we had a lot of cases come across our desk where we couldn’t get that ex­tra step be­cause of records. We just couldn’t link that per­son to the items be­cause we didn’t have the pa­per­work to back it up. Since then, I have no­ticed an in­crease in the peo­ple we have been able to iden­tify and ar­rest.”

This ten­ta­tive reach­ing out among groups that might once be con­sid­ered ad­ver­saries seems to be driven by a recog­ni­tion that both sides have more to gain more from co­op­er­at­ing than op­er­at­ing in­di­vid­u­ally.

At Oconee, owner Ed Cloud, dis­played a thick sheaf of pa­pers from the trans­ac­tions for one half­day. For each trans­ac­tion, he said, they keep a copy of the per­son’s photo iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, car make, model, and tag num­ber, the items brought in and the price of those items.

At a re­cy­cle cen­ter down the street from Oconee, re­cently im­ple­mented com­put­er­ized records make the record keep­ing and search­ing ef­fi­cient and easy to ac­cess for law en­force­ment, said the owner, who de­clined to be iden­ti­fied.

In ad­di­tion to keep­ing photo iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and records on each trans­ac­tion, he said the cen­ter calls po­lice when­ever they en­counter a sus­pect load or per­son.

“A good scrap per­son can tell,” he said. A cus­tomer balk­ing at pro­duc­ing photo iden­ti­fi­ca­tion or a per­son bring­ing items that would nor­mally only be found in an in­dus­trial set­ting are some ex­am­ples of things that might trig­ger sus­pi­cion.

Brian Cloud at Oconee said they con­tact the CPD a cou­ple times a month with cus­tomers they sus­pect of hav­ing stolen metal.

“ We go out of our way to make sure if some­thing looks sus­pi­cious, we turn it in,” he said.

Be­ing more proac­tive in record keep­ing and re­port­ing sus­pi­cious loads did af­fect busi­ness a lit­tle bit, he said. But most of Oconee’s busi­ness comes from in­dus­trial cus­tomers, he said, with about 20 per­cent of their metal com­ing from the pub­lic.

“ We could close our doors from the pub­lic and still be just as busy,” he said.

The owner down the street, who es­ti­mated he saw about 25 per­cent of his busi­ness from pub­lic ped­dlers, echoed those sen­ti­ments.

“ No doubt, we lost busi­ness, but the busi­ness we lost, there was some­thing shady about it,” he said. Keep­ing that kind of busi­ness away helped him keep a cleaner im­age, and helps him in the long run, he said.

Day­light Sav­ing Time be­gins: Set your clocks for­ward one hour

Michelle Kim/The Cov­ing­ton News

Valu­able goods: A box of cop­per col­lected at Oconee Metal Re­cov­ery awaits scrap­ping.

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