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Georgia law reduces metal thefts

Friday, July 5, 2013 9:52 PM
Last updated Saturday, July 6, 2013 1:45 AM
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One year after a Georgia law targeting metal thefts went into effect, such crimes have dropped drastically, according to officials at a utility company and a major recycler.

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Bert Brown (right) photographs a seller dropping of scrap metal at Augusta Recycling off of Gordon Highway.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Bert Brown (right) photographs a seller dropping of scrap metal at Augusta Recycling off of Gordon Highway.


“It was not only a problem, but a severe problem bordering on epidemic,” Lee Swann, a security investigator for Georgia Transmission, said of the state’s previous metal theft problem. Georgia Transmission provides transmission service for 39 electric member corporations.

The Richmond County Sheriff’s Of­fice does not keep statistics on metal crimes, but Investigator Kendall Brown said he has seen a decrease in caseload since the law changed. Other agencies across the state are reporting similar effects.

The law went into effect July 1, 2012. One of the new mandates requires that recycling companies take photos or videos of every purchase, the sellers, vehicle tag numbers and driver’s licenses, and keep them on file for two years. This means that even after the stolen metal has left a recycling yard, a trail of documents is available to lead investigators back to the original sellers.

The photos and videos have been one of the main contributors to change, but a host of other new requirements were also included in the law.

“All of the stakeholders, including the recyclers, worked very hard to put this bill together,” said Frank Goul­ding, the vice president of marketing for Newell Recycling. “What we felt when the bill was complete was that we had a very solid piece of legislation.”

Newell, which has 10 Geor­gia locations, including one in Augusta, has seen a reduction in cases since the bill went into effect.

Locally, metal thefts had showed continual increases since 2011. The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office reinstated a full-time metal thefts investigator, making Brown the only law enforcement investigator in the state with a full-time metal theft beat.

Since the legislation passed in 2012, Georgia has seen a 98 percent reduction in air-conditioning thefts, according to Brown, who also coordinates the CSRA Metal Theft Task Force, which includes 65 agencies.

Now the only people allowed to sell air-conditioning coils to recyclers are state-licensed contractors, businesses and those with receipts to prove a new unit is replacing the old one.

“The overall deterrence is if you can’t sell it, you won’t steal it,” Brown said.

For Georgia Transmission, the theft of metal posed an electrocution risk for workers. Swann said employees had several close calls when someone stole wire from substations and transmission structures.

In 2011, the utility reported 127 theft incidents. The number began dropping in 2012 because of the new law, and the year ended with 83 incidents.

“We aren’t seeing the intensity we were seeing,” said Swann, a retired law enforcement officer who investigates all copper thefts for Georgia Transmission.

The company, which builds and maintains high-voltage transmission lines and substations, saw a 43 percent decrease in thefts in the first four months of this year over the same period last year.

Metal thefts are still occurring in Richmond County, and Brown has about 10 cases every month. However, the focus has mostly shifted to thefts of automotive batteries, cars and catalytic converters, he said.

By now Brown knows the faces of the recyclers and of suspicious sellers.

Sellers who come in with dirty knees and hands and tools in their vehicles are always suspicious. He said most of the people try to sell immediately after the theft.

“If they need money, they want it right away,” Brown said.

Investigators agree that substance abuse is a large driver. Swann said all his arrests involve substance abuse of some kind, but most involve methamphetamine.

“I have yet to make an arrest on anyone who isn’t into drugs,” he said.

Recyclers and law enforcement are pleased with the overall effect of the law, but they’re still waiting on the GBI database that was promised. The database will share the recyclers’ documentation from sales with all law enforcement agencies, but the program needs funding.

In the meantime, investigators have to request the information from recyclers.

Comments (5) Add comment
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griff6035
4280
Points
griff6035 07/05/13 - 09:51 pm
3
0
Metal theft bill

A bill that really works!

d1zmljqg
997
Points
d1zmljqg 07/06/13 - 06:23 am
3
0
I'm thankful to our lawmakers

This is a good law.

soapy_725
44121
Points
soapy_725 07/06/13 - 07:50 am
1
0
Only if it is enforced. We have a problem with enforcement.
Unpublished

Only if it is enforced. We have a problem with enforcement.

soapy_725
44121
Points
soapy_725 07/06/13 - 07:51 am
1
0
No liability insurance, no tag, no license, no enforcement.
Unpublished

No liability insurance, no tag, no license, no enforcement.

nocnoc
49130
Points
nocnoc 07/06/13 - 10:33 am
3
0
Once in a Blue Moon they get it right.

It just took them 6 years to do it.

I guess the campaign donations from Recycling companies clouded their minds for a while, until the Insurance Industry started donationing.

Darby
29251
Points
Darby 07/06/13 - 01:30 pm
2
1
"I'm thankful to our lawmakers

This is a good law."

.
You know what they say, even a blind squirrel......

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
11036
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 07/06/13 - 03:25 pm
2
0
Price Fixing

They didn't include the fact that the recyclers have all lowered the amounts they pay to about 30%. Periodically I clean up my property and if there is any metal I save it for a trip to recycle it. In the past I've gotten about $60 for a truckload of metal. The trip I made a this year netted only about $25 for the same amount and type of metal. The prices of these metals have not decreased, so guess who's making all the money on it!! If it won't pay for my gas I guess I'll just stack it up and save it for my grandkids!!!

rmwhitley
5547
Points
rmwhitley 07/06/13 - 04:03 pm
0
0
Criminals, protected by left wing policies,
Unpublished

have stripped the average person of many freedoms. If you , personally, wanted to sell your own private air conditioning property, it is against the law unless you are registered by the state. If we quit coddling criminals and punish them as severely as possible, we may return to normalcy. I have no desire to store worn out coils on my property as they are an eyesore. Nor do I wish to donate money to a state licensed broker by giving them the worn out air conditioners or hot water heaters.

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