"I see (metal thefts) much more regular, on a daily basis now, so it's obvious that it's creeping back up," said Richmond County sheriff's Lt. Tony Walden. "I want to stay ahead of the curve on this one."
Aiken County started enforcing a South Carolina law March 1 to combat the problem.
According to the law, anyone hauling more than 25 pounds of nonferrous metals is required to have a permit.
Nonferrous metals are those that do not contain a significant amount of iron or steel, such as copper and aluminum.
"Every year, this time of year, it seems that the number of metal thefts seem to be on the uprise," said Aiken County sheriff's Capt. Troy Elwell. "It's one of those things that we looked at and considered and finally felt that it was necessary for us to put into effect."
The law had been on the South Carolina books for years, but unless the county has the permits to issue, it couldn't be enforced.
Since March 1, the county has had more than 100 applicants for free permits.
"Even though it's been somewhat of an inconvenience to our citizens, we believe (the new law) has helped," Elwell said.
Aiken County has issued citations for hauling metals without a permit, but no arrests have been made.
"We do believe it has deterred thefts in the county," Elwell said. "You just don't see the amount of vehicles hauling metal that you used to through the county on a daily basis."
Aiken County mainly tracks air conditioner thefts. Between Jan. 1 and March 1 of last year, about 20 units had been stolen. Since then, there has been only one.
"I'd like to see something like that over here," Walden said.
Richmond County had tried to curb the number of thefts by changing the statute on how recycling businesses operate, but a state law prevents it from doing so.
Adopting a law similar to the one in South Carolina might be a different story, Walden said.
Recycling businesses are required to keep permanent records of every item brought in, in addition to copies of identification and a description and tag number of the vehicle driven by the person dropping the items off. Investigators have found that many businesses don't comply, however, making investigations difficult.
"They're literally hitting everything," Walden said of the rise in metal thefts.
Investigators were recently sent to south Augusta, where guy wires had been cut.
Richmond County did not have records on the number of metal thefts.