Richmond County police crack down on metal thefts

Officer investigates at scrap yards

Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012 5:48 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012 1:45 AM
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Zander Wheeler raised suspicions when he stepped up to the window at Augusta Steel and Metal Recycling Center on Jan. 19 with a large amount of aluminum coils and copper tubing.

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Investigator Kendall Brown inspects aluminum coils that had been taken to Augusta Steel Metal Co. As part of the county's metal theft task force, Brown checks in with recyclers to find people selling stolen metal.   EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Investigator Kendall Brown inspects aluminum coils that had been taken to Augusta Steel Metal Co. As part of the county's metal theft task force, Brown checks in with recyclers to find people selling stolen metal.

Workers immediately called Richmond County sheriff’s investigator Kendall Brown. Shortly thereafter, Wheeler was behind bars.

When metal prices began rising again in 2011, so did thefts. That’s why Brown is back on the job, reinstated as a metal theft investigator last June, making Richmond County the only law enforcement department in the state with such a position. Since his return, Brown has made 65 arrests.

“We make several arrests a day,” Brown said. “I probably talk to 100 to 150 people a week.”

Sheriff Ronnie Strength said that Brown’s work is cutting into the problem but that more needs to be done.

“There aren’t enough people working it,” he said, blaming the manpower shortage on budget constraints. “We should have at least three people working it.”

Brown’s position was originally created in 2008 but ended in 2010. When the number of metal thefts started rising in connection to higher metal prices Brown was called back.

“The prices are up now,” Strength said. “We don’t see that problem changing.”

The sheriff’s office does not keep statistics specifically on the number of metal-related thefts but looks to the number of arrests to determine success.

“Our reported thefts have gone way down since June,” he said.

That drop is attributed to the relationships Brown has created with employees of local scrap metal yards, with the Wheeler arrest a prime example. Wheeler, 19, is charged with four counts of criminal damage to property in the second degree for an estimated $45,000 to $50,000 in damage to six industrial-sized airconditioning units at the Henry R. Brigham Community Center.

Brown, who is also coordinator of the CSRA Metal Theft Task Force that includes 65 agencies, estimates he spends 65 percent of his day at Augusta’s five scrap metal yards and three junk car lots. Dressed in jeans and a jacket, he blends in with other sellers. But if he sees something suspicious, he whips out his badge and checks the seller’s ID.

After checking for a seller’s driver’s license status and if he has active warrants, he checks out the story. If the story is also suspicious, Brown photographs the items. Nine times out of 10, Brown said, he isn’t sure at the time if the items are indeed stolen but getting photo evidence helps him stay proactive instead of reactive.

“If something is sold at 9 in the morning, it can be gone before the day it over,” he said.

Churches, schools and other businesses that aren’t open daily are often targeted. Days later when the theft is finally reported, the evidence is already gone.

“You have to be out there with your boots on the ground to encounter these guys,” he said.

After less than a year of daily trips to the recycling centers, Brown said it’s obvious word is getting around that Augusta is cracking down on metal theft.

Comments (7) Add comment
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seenitB4
87304
Points
seenitB4 01/30/12 - 07:10 am
0
0
Yep....you need more people

Yep....you need more people working this....get them please.

david jennings
601
Points
david jennings 01/30/12 - 08:07 am
0
0
Now it will interesting to

Now it will interesting to see how Wheeler is going to pay the $50,000 dollars for the damage caused to the Brigham Center. I say, It aint gonna happen.

Bulldog
1324
Points
Bulldog 01/30/12 - 10:05 am
0
0
Until we elect some

Until we elect some commissioners who have the courage to give the sheriff a decent budget, we will never see the end of this. Until crime and the perception of crime is dramatically reduced, Richmond County will continue to see its tax base erode and the quality of life waste away.

Little Lamb
46022
Points
Little Lamb 01/30/12 - 10:35 am
0
0
I salute RCSO for working on

I salute RCSO for working on this issue, but we civilian citizens have a responsibility also. We must not act as if the government is going to make this world all better. Metals have become more valuable as our dollars have become debased. Things that we might once have left in a pile in our yard or in a vacant lot must now be kept under security if we don't want to have them stolen.

There are a couple of scenarios. If someone destroys an air conditioner to steal the copper coils, that someone should rot under the jail.

But if someone casually picks up some copper or steel from an unsecured pile in a back yard, shame on the property owner as well as on the thief.

madgerman
236
Points
madgerman 01/30/12 - 11:15 am
0
0
Damage to property? What
Unpublished

Damage to property? What about burglary? And what is this 2d degree business. Yeah we all need to keep electing the same old do-nothings to represent us in Atlanta where the laws of the land are written by the sorryest nincompoots in town. If we really wanted to stop it, we would have a law confiscating and selling his truck for such a crime and the victims would be given the money.

madgerman
236
Points
madgerman 01/30/12 - 11:18 am
0
0
LL I can't believe you
Unpublished

LL I can't believe you actually believe that if I take something from your yard, you would actually want people to say shame on him/her for leaving it there and let the situation go without calling the police.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 01/30/12 - 12:44 pm
0
0
My kid leaves his new big

My kid leaves his new big wheel in the yard one night and gone by morning. Year or two later, he leaves his new bike out and gone by morning. I get the other kid a new bike to replace his old one and leave the old one out since Christmas, it's still taking up space. Is crime lower or are the criminals just being particular? yeah, no brainer

Jane18
12332
Points
Jane18 01/30/12 - 01:32 pm
0
0
Why, why, why, would law

Why, why, why, would law enforcement and the AC let the thieves know how investigator Brown dresses and that he shows up at these recycling centers?

Jane18
12332
Points
Jane18 01/30/12 - 01:34 pm
0
0
Plus, now there is a picture

Plus, now there is a picture of him!

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