Legislation to reduce and deter scrap metal and copper theft

March 19, 2014

Scrap Metal theft is a problem, especially copper theft. There are multiple actions that can help reduce and deter it. 1) Go after and prosecute the thieves, 2) People and companies must use reasonable security to protect their facilities, 3) Shut down Recycling Centers that knowingly buy stolen material, 4) Law enforcement should use the web based and simple to use, industry theft alert system (run by ISRI), to alert all Recycling Centers to be on the lookout for stolen material when there is a theft.

All will help, but the real issue is economics. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (, did a major study on copper theft. The study documented that the price of copper strongly correlates to the amount of copper theft; copper theft goes down when the price of copper goes down and theft goes up with the price goes up. This week copper hit a new multi-year low and the price has been going down for many months. Copper theft is going down, yet true, graphic stories about scrap metal theft remain in the press.

As for the proposed and current Michigan law and laws people are talking about in California and other places, Repressive Tlaib of Michigan, in a meeting with about 20 people once said that for Recycling Centers, "It would be onerous to have them issue checks for material". Rep Tlaib was right. She now says she wants checks (putting onerous conditions on Recycling Centers) and says "no criminal wants to sign the back of a check and cash it". Some Recycling Centers would have to issue 300-700+ checks a day for as little as $2.00 each. A law abiding person might then have to pay $5.00 to cash these checks, meaning these checks will make check cashing companies rich and it takes money away from the person that legally collects material for recycling.

A proposed part of the Michigan law would require an ATM that takes a photo of the seller getting the money, instead of a check for copper. If I were a prosecutor, I would want a photo of a person getting money, not a signature on a check that could be forged. As a prosecutor do I want to get a handwriting expert in court to prove the person got the money, or do I want a photo of the criminal getting the money? Also, as a prosecutor do I want to call a Recycling Center and have them email me a photo of a person getting his/her money and have it in a hour or less, or do I want to issue a subpoena to a bank to get a copy of a check with a possible forged signature, which could take days or weeks to get at a high cost of paperwork and time? Also a retired police Captain once said "Checks are 200 year old technology. We should be using new technology like ATMs that take photos to catch thieves, not 200 year old technology." Even "Homeland Security Today" (for Insight & Analysis for Government Decision Makers), once ran a release/story on the use of ATMs taking photos to catch metal theft thieves and be a deterrent-thieves do not want their photo taken. Also, issuing more checks would lead to more check fraud. Scanners and printers are cheap, so there would be more check fraud, leading to tens of thousands of dollars of theft.

Related, the current law already requires a signature by the seller at the transaction. In Detroit, the current law also requires a thumb print. Why would a second signature help as Rep Tlaib wants? Rep Tlaib also says "It's great for our law enforcement to have an address", implying that the new law requires this. The current law now requires a valid State or Federal ID with an address for the seller, to the sell material. No Photo ID, no transaction. The key here is a photo of the person getting money would help prosecutors, along with currently in the MI/Detroit law, which requires 1) a thumbprint, 2) a scan or copy of a State or Federal photo ID 3) signature; and add to the law 4) transactions need to be by ATM that take a photo of the seller getting his/her money and 5) a photo of the person and their material. The current law also requires a holding of certain material for a week. If I were a prosecutor do I want to have someone go through boxes of material, with hundreds or thousands items, or do I want a photo of the person with his/her material? I am sure that Rep Tlaib, is a hardworking representative of the people, but her idea that a second signature on a check and waiting three days for it, is not the answer.

Also, all are missing the key issue. Making copper, aluminum and steel requires the use of enormous amounts of energy. In this country, much of the energy used to make metal comes from power plants that use imported oil from the Middle East. Making new metal from recycled metal, instead of making it from mined raw materials, uses between 55-90 percent LESS energy. Recycling saves energy. Our thirst for imported oil helps fund terrorists that blow up our buildings, blow up our planes and kill our dedicated young soldiers. Recycling also creates many high wage jobs and middle wage (above minimum wage) jobs that have benefits like healthcare. We need more jobs in this country, not less which will be done by putting onerous (Rep Tlaib' s word) conditions on Recycling Centers. Lastly much of the material in this country that is collected for recycling goes to China—yes, export to China, not import from China. This is creating good high wage jobs in the U.S. with money coming from China. The old copper wire collected for recycling in Detroit, San Francisco, Dallas, Bakersfield, Raleigh, Miami, St. Louis and other places goes to China and comes back to the U.S. in iPhones, iPads and TVs.

We should be promoting recycling, not making it tougher for Recyclers to do business.