Metal thefts down under new law

A little more than one month after House Bill 872 went into effect, Richmond County law enforcement officials said they have seen a significant reduction in metal thefts.

“The new law has worked on several different levels, and we are only a little over 30 days in,” said Investigator Kendall Brown, the coordinator of the CSRA Metal Theft Task Force. “It is easier for us to find and arrest metal thieves, and therefore it is harder for them to get rid of stolen goods. So they don’t steal them.”

Since July 1, when the law went into effect, Brown said he has seen air conditioner thefts reduced to almost nothing and vacant houses have not been broken into and gutted as often as before.

However, he said, he has seen a spike in older-model cars being stolen. The new law requires recyclers to take pictures of sellers, items and any passengers, which he said has made arrests easier.

“More documentation is making arrests fast and simple,” he said.

In order to recycle an air conditioner under the new law, the seller must be a licensed contractor or present a receipt showing that the unit has been replaced recently.

Another change involves cash transactions. Now recyclers cannot pay sellers of nonferrous metals (gold, silver, titanium, copper) in cash. Cash can be paid only for aluminum cans and batteries. The recyclers must pay for all other metals with a check.

The check slows down the process enough to deter people trying to feed a drug habit by stealing metal, Brown said.

Brown had worried that vehicle battery thefts would rise but said that has not been the case so far.

Frank Goulding, the vice president of marketing for Newell’s Recycling center, said all of his locations in Georgia, including Augusta, were seeing sellers who were already accustomed to the changes.

“They have accepted that they are no longer paid in cash,” he said.

He said that business has not declined because of the bill but that it has changed. Instead of seeing air conditioners come in from everyone, he is seeing more from contractors.

Goulding also said his locations have a stronger relationship with local law enforcement thanks to the law, which he said has been positive.

“It is making everything very transparent,” he said. “Thieves aren’t selling now because they can’t.”

Rep. Jason Shaw, R-Lakeland, who sponsored the bill, was concerned with having a clear registration process for recyclers with law enforcement.

“We wanted a uniform, statewide system,” he said. “We are very pleased with the form.”

Brown said the sheriff’s office was swamped with local businesses registering before the July 1 deadline. He said he was pleased with the amount of registered businesses, saying he had seen more than 45 secondary recyclers.

Shaw expects some problems to arise by the next legislative session, but said he is happy to make any small changes that are necessary.

“Overall, I think it’s working well,” he said.

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