New scrap metal law could increase battery thefts

Investigator Kendall Brown says a new state law taking effect Sunday should make it easier to prevent metal theft.

Law enforcement officials say they expect vehicle battery thefts to increase when House Bill 872, which is intended to reduce metal thefts, goes into effect Sunday.


“It is one of the only items which will result in cash,” Richmond County sheriff’s Investigator Kendall Brown, who is also the coordinator of the CSRA Metal Theft Task Force, said of batteries.

One of the largest changes involves cash transactions. Now, recyclers must pay only sellers of nonferrous metals (gold, silver, titanium, copper) in cash. Starting Sunday, cash can be paid only for aluminum cans and batteries. The recyclers must pay for all other metals with a check.

“A lot of these metal thieves are looking to feed their drug habit,” Brown said. “By making them cash a check, it is easier for law enforcement to follow the paper trail.”

Brown said the battery exception will most likely cause a rise in those thefts. He suggested that any business or person with a large number of vehicles in one place mark their batteries with neon spray paint.

Another part of the bill requires all recyclers, whether they are on a fixed site or transient, to register with local law enforcement.

Recyclers also will be required to take a digital or video image of everything they buy, and the face of the seller, and to document the ID of everyone involved in the sale.

Penalties for metal thieves are also increasing. If someone is caught selling stolen metal, law enforcement will confiscate the thief’s vehicle and anything else that was used during the crime. The items will be auctioned off, and the money will go to the law enforcement agency, Brown said.

“I’m going to have a whole fleet of cars,” he said.

Another big change involves new restrictions on the sale of copper-aluminum air conditioning coils. Starting Sunday, the seller will have to be a licensed contractor or have a receipt saying an HVAC unit has been replaced.

“We expect the air conditioner thefts to be cut drastically,” Brown said. “To almost nonexistent.”

Burned wire is also outlawed unless the seller has a fire or police report.

Recyclers don’t know yet how the bill will affect their businesses.

“We’re not sure,” said Frank Goulding, the vice president of marketing for Newell Recycling. “But we are ready to comply and will do our part to help law enforcement.”

Goulding said the bill will force metal thieves to sell out of state, which is not too difficult considering Georgia’s neighbors.

“The challenge will be to control that activity,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it works out.”

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