Cold Metal in My Garbage Can

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Maybe scrap metal thievery is a bigger problem than I realized, or maybe this new Tennessee law is over the top.

The legislation, signed into law in April, requires scrap metal dealers to register with the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance by Oct. 1. People selling metal must have a state or federal photo identification card and provide thumbprints. The dealers will have to purchase the equipment needed to take these thumbprints, and the photos, if the sellers don't have photo identification. These sellers would still have to present some form of state- or federally-issued identification to the dealers.

Well, at least it'll crack down on crime and let upstanding businesses continue selling metal. Maybe?

T.J. Garland, part of the family that owns Noble Metals on Belgrade Road, said he has to build office space, hire a secretary, and buy a $20,000 camera and computer system to meet the requirements of the new law, which takes effect July 1.

"It's horrendous," Garland said Wednesday.

Well, maybe Garland was one of those skinflints who deserved to be put out of business.

To combat thefts from his eight-acre site, Garland has an armed security guard and three strands of razor wire attached to an eight-foot-high chain link fence around his yard.

Where have you gone, Julian Simon? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Headline explained here. Apologies to you and to the Iggy Pop Reputation Restoration project.

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  1. Let me guess, there’s a filing fee for registering?

  2. I work for a contractor. We have had repeated problems with people stealing the catylitic converters off our trucks. The problem with stealing is you’ve got to be able to fence the shit you steal. No one wants to buy a POS wal-mart DVD player. Scrap metal is a largely untraceable cash business and currently represents a major market for thieves. Scrap metal thievery is a bigger problem than you realize, Mr. Weigel.

  3. An entertaining number of idiots in Kentucky have electrocuted themselves attempting to steal copper and aluminum wire from transformers and electrical substations.

  4. New World Dan: This justifies putting dealers out of business how?

  5. The target of this law appears to be the homeless guys who push around supermarket carts and, on the benign side just root through your curbside recycling for cans… on the malignant side, rip the gutters and flashing off your house, or catalytic converter as Dan mentioned above… or even worse, get into sealed buildings and rip out the copper plumbing and wiring, pushing borderline neighborhoods closer to ED-worthy blight categorization.

  6. SugarFree,

    That particular idiocy is not limited to just our state. Thats a national level of idiocy.

  7. When I head to my local metal yard to pick up material for my latest welding project (sorry Guy, I’m a dude) there are signs posted detailing the requirements to sell scrap and the penalties for selling stolen items.

    A few months ago a bunch of 4 wheelers came off the trail at Uwharrie National Forest to find that someone had made off with their exhausts. There’s gold (well, platinum) in them thar’ catalytic converters.

  8. It’s the methheads!!!1 ripping the wires out of foreclosed houses and selling it!

    (they keep the copper pipes, to build stills, because they understand the virtues of a diversified portfolio)

  9. When I was in grad school, homeless people would steal the copper coils from AC units in the winter months and sell it due to the run up in copper prices (plus no one would figure it out for months). According to a deputy DA that I shared a rental car with, there were a few killings that were related to turf wars over scrap metal.

    It is a bigger problem than you think, Dave.

  10. I don’t have a problem with legal oversight of a business that facilitates theft. Without anywhere to sell it, no one would steal this stuff. Once something is stolen, it doesn’t magically become OK to buy it. It’s still stolen goods.

    Harm to person or property are legitimate crimes, even in Libertopia.

    robc, it’s just more entertaining when it’s local so I pay attention better…

  11. T.J. Garland, part of the family that owns Noble Metals on Belgrade Road, said he has to build office space, hire a secretary, and buy a $20,000 camera and computer system to meet the requirements of the new law, which takes effect July 1.

    Technically, he doesn’t have to. He could just force the people he buys stuff from to show him a form of ID.

    To combat thefts from his eight-acre site, Garland has an armed security guard and three strands of razor wire attached to an eight-foot-high chain link fence around his yard.

    Right, the law isn’t to prevent thefts to his property, but to prevent thefts of other people’s property and sale to him. The fence and security guard protect his stuff.

  12. Stuff like this bugs me, not because I am opposed to making a good faith effort to combat thievery, but because the actual process seems to be more about bulding the database than actually catching crooks.

  13. Nigel,

    I didn’t say this was necessarily the right approach, just that it’s a large problem. On top of that, as far as thievery goes, it’s particularly destructive. When you steal jewelry, you’ve not actually destroying the jewelry in the process. When you steal the catalytic converter off a truck, you’re causing $1200+ in damage for $50 cash. Likewise for copper wire, plumbing, aluminum gutters, you name it. Scrap metal dealers provide a valuable service and probably 98% of their business is legit, but if regulations raise the cost of business by $20K, but in the process prevent $100K worth of damage to property, is it worth it? Do you throw a blanket tax on the industry to cover that small subset of crime? Regulate and give tax credits to scrap dealers that implement anti-fraud programs? I don’t know the industry well enough to tell you the best solution, but it is a problem that needs attention.

  14. Mo,

    Instead of the new law (which isnt necessarily a problem), how much effort did the police put into, you know, catching the metal thieves?

    When someone calls the police and says “My catylitic converter has been stolen” due they say “yeah, we’ve had a lot of that recently” or do they come out and dust for prints and compare to other prints and search databases and track down the thief? Or do they spend all their time shooting guys growing japanese maples?
    (yeah, Im mixing jurisdictions, but so what?)

  15. I believe I have the worst spelling of catalytic ever.

  16. Stuff like this bugs me, not because I am opposed to making a good faith effort to combat thievery, but because the actual process seems to be more about bulding the database than actually catching crooks.

    Exactly. The upshot will be stolen goods sales won’t drop at all but enforcement of a new code will earn the state a few bucks in fines.

  17. robc said:

    or do they come out and dust for prints and compare to other prints and search databases and track down the thief?

    From personal experience, I’ve developed zero faith that cops are capable of catching even a minority of thieves after the fact. I remember when an old GF had her purse stolen from the car. She was insistent that a cop should come out and fingerprint. I rolled my eyes. They did, but nothing ever came of it, which did not surprise me in the slightest.

    I remember when my car was stolen. The only thing filing a police report accomplished was to give the cops a current number to call when the car turned up abandoned a few weeks later.

    I think this is why citizens generally support regulatory solutions to crime prevention. Because they have given up on the ability of cops to do it.

  18. Instead of the new law (which isnt necessarily a problem), how much effort did the police put into, you know, catching the metal thieves?

    When someone calls the police and says “My catylitic converter has been stolen” due they say “yeah, we’ve had a lot of that recently” or do they come out and dust for prints and compare to other prints and search databases and track down the thief? Or do they spend all their time shooting guys growing japanese maples?
    (yeah, Im mixing jurisdictions, but so what?)

    Totally agree. But you’ve got to think that with all the video cameras that this guy has, if a homeless guy strolls in with 10 catalytic converters, you’d be a bit suspicious about buying it. Hell, outside of scrapyards, mechanics and criminals, how many people actually sell catalytic converters?

  19. To combat thefts from his eight-acre site, Garland has an armed security guard and three strands of razor wire attached to an eight-foot-high chain link fence around his yard.

    I’m gonna make so much money once I steal that fence!

  20. I do believe a lot of the copper plumbing fixtures were stolen in Hawaii beach houses – what I don’t get, however, is how you can unload such a large amount of copper for profit on an island without getting noticed.

  21. It’s not just the copper wires and pipes stolen from abandoned/foreclosed houses that’s a problem, although it’s probably the biggest reason for the law. There have been houses that have flooded or nearly been blown up because the thieves didn’t bother to turn off the water or gas before ripping out the pipes.

    I’ve seen crackheads rip down aluminum gutters and siding as well to sell for scrap. The police are stymied because the dealers who buy this stuff just shrug their shoulders and say they can’t verify the source of the stuff.

    I wonder if the scrap metal dealers will still take the shady stuff under the table and not log it in the database. Joe Q Public who replaces his aluminum siding and wants to cash in with the scrap will still be harassed and fingerprinted and put in the books.

    Last thing – that the camera/computer rig should cost $20K is hilarious. Slap a webcam on an Emachine for $300.

  22. The solve rate on car theft in America is 0%. Saw that in a textbook once.

    If they don’t catch the guy driving the stolen car, they don’t catch him. Don’t even try.

  23. So, lemme get this straight. My home State of TN just passed another STUPID law requiring people selling scrap to show an ID.

    Okay, fine. I have one. If I make deals with all the bums stealing crap to buy it cheaper from them than I can sell it for with my ID does that count as an arbitrague?

  24. I’m gonna make so much money once I steal that fence!

    Don’t you mean fence that fence? Stealing it does not generate wealth, selling it does.

  25. I’ve seen crackheads rip down aluminum gutters and siding as well to sell for scrap. The police are stymied because the dealers who buy this stuff just shrug their shoulders and say they can’t verify the source of the stuff.

    What is stopping the property owner from blasting 00 buckshot holes through the tresspassing thieves?

    Oh yea, I forgot. Liberals strike again.

  26. The ultimate endpoint of all this is to create a licensed cartel of registered sellers, thus creating yet another black market, and still not solving the problem.

    The problem will only be solved when property owners make greater efforts to protect their own property.

  27. Okay, fine. I have one. If I make deals with all the bums stealing crap to buy it cheaper from them than I can sell it for with my ID does that count as an arbitrague?

    No, that makes you a dealer in stolen property. That is, a fence. It’s a felony and rightfully so.

    Go for it, Mr Entrepreneur.

  28. There has been a similar proposal in Hawaii to one in TN. IIRC, most scrap metal recyclers are already registered with the state under other statutes, but the change would require people turning in metal to provide ID and demonstrate the providence of the metal (this last part has been the sticking point of the proposal). Copper thefts have been extremely common as of late, esp from streetlights.

  29. Reading through the comments, I want to restate my last point. Most of the thefts are not from private property, but from public ones.

  30. I live in Detroit. Metal thieves are a serious problem in Motown due to all of the reasons cited upthread.* A requirement for ID, or lacking that, a thumbprint does not seem to onerous a burden on scrap dealers to me.

    I’m a libertarian, yes. That doesn’t mean I believe that a thief should get away with it as soon as he clears the property line.

    * Just one more. Detroit, a financially distressed city, closed down a public pool in a poor neighborhood last year. We couldn’t really afford to repair the damage done by the metal thieves that broke into the showers/changing rooms to steal metals that likely netted them a C-note or two. Repairs would have been in the tens of thousands. The scrap dealer they sold it to, likely netted 10-20 bucks.

  31. Perhaps if they’re going to do this they ought to give something of a tax break to scrap metal yards for a year or two to help with the small burden. It should come out of the public safety budget.

  32. J sub D said:

    A requirement for ID, or lacking that, a thumbprint does not seem to onerous a burden on scrap dealers to me.

    Why does the substitution of an open market with a regulated/black market combination appeal to you?

    Again, theft prevention involves increased security. I’m unconvinced that creating a black market where there was none before would have a net positive effect on scrap theft.

  33. Well, this fits right in with some of the other crazy crap from my State.

    In 1982 the city of Knoxville required cab drivers to have a special cab driver’s license, in addition to the proper for-hire endorsement on their regular vehicle operator’s permit. Had to get the extra license fom the cops. Probably still do.

    In 1984 the State required all car salesmen to be licensed, probably still do.

    All of the business we are talking about in this thread topic already have to be licensed anyway.

    I recall an effort (forgot if it was State or local) to have people who sell more than three vehicles in one year to go through the extra hoops to become “car dealers”.

    Don’t forget that goofy drug dealer tax stamp nonsense from a couple of years ago.

    I am in the “this is another stupid regulation” column.

  34. BTW, those stupid, expensive, performance robbing catylitic converters would nto even be on vehicles to steal if it were not for pesky Californians and the federal government.

  35. Why does the substitution of an open market with a regulated/black market combination appeal to you?

    People stealing scrap metal and selling it isn’t an open market, it’s a black market.

  36. Why does the substitution of an open market with a regulated/black market combination appeal to you?

    Fencing stole goods is not an open market. But you knew that.

  37. Oops, Mo beat me to the obvious.

  38. J sub D said:

    Fencing stole goods is not an open market. But you knew that.

    Fencing requires that the buyer know that the goods are stolen. When the buyer pays market rates for a stolen good, that’s not a fence transaction.

    And your answer is just a dodge to my underlying question. You’re proposing implementing stricter regulations which will simply shift the market entry point of the stolen goods. Is there evidence that it will reduce the crime rate?

  39. People stealing scrap metal and selling it isn’t an open market, it’s a black market.

    Racist!

  40. Fencing requires that the buyer know that the goods are stolen.

    Or willful ignorance about the origins of the goods purchased. That describes many scrap metal dealers. But you knew that too.

  41. “I didn’t know that the copper A/C tubing delivered on a stolen grocery cart by a guy without identification was hot” just don’t quite fucking cut it.

  42. I’ve seen crackheads rip down aluminum gutters and siding as well to sell for scrap.

    The problem would be solved by legalizing the drugs, but where’s the money in that?

  43. The good thing about the housing slump is that there are fewer unfinished homes to rip copper out of.

  44. The problem would be solved by legalizing the drugs, but where’s the money in that?

    I think crackheads are in the minority of thieves.

    You’re proposing implementing stricter regulations which will simply shift the market entry point of the stolen goods.

    Raising the barrier for stolen goods while leaving the entry point for legitimate scrap essentially untouched raises the cost for dealing in stolen goods and decreases the margin. Therefore, it should act as a moderate deterrent. What I want to know is where do you get the most bang for your buck. What low cost steps actually drive sales of stolen merchandise out of open markets? People steal because they’re lazy. They’re looking to make a quick buck. If it’s more work to steal and sell stolen property than flip burgers, they’re not going to steal. A thumbprint and digital picture may scare off some of the amatures.

  45. J sub D said:

    Or willful ignorance about the origins of the goods purchased. That describes many scrap metal dealers. But you knew that too.

    It also describes every pawn shop in existence.
    And every consignment shop.
    And every used book store.
    And every used CD/album store.
    And every cash bank transaction under $10K.

    “Willful ignorance” is a meaningless phrase. But you knew that too.

    And you are still dodging my question.

  46. If it’s more work to steal and sell stolen property than flip burgers, they’re not going to steal. A thumbprint and digital picture may scare off some of the amateurs.

    MP keows that as well.

  47. I’ve had three AC compressors, one furnace, a hot water heater, and all the plumbing stolen from one house– all in the last two years.

    There’s no simple solution, but the scrap metal thieves need to be stopped. Shutting down the market in stolen metal would certainly help.

  48. Landlord,

    A motion sensing camera? Then you could put the film of the thieves on youtube and piss off the cops.

  49. Landlord,

    A motion sensing camera? Then you could put the film of the thieves on youtube and piss off the cops.

    robc, I salute you. There is so much win there I can’t begin to describe it all.

  50. More to the point, that Iggy Pop video was incredible.

  51. JsubD,

    Mash up of threads have such potential, but coming up with the right post to pull it off is hard (for me).

    I nailed this one though. Thanks for the win reward.

  52. It also describes every pawn shop in existence.
    IDs are require to pawn merchandise in most jurisdictions. Why, you ask? Because thieves use them to fence stolen merchandise otherwise. Pawn shops that don’t keep records are prosecuted.
    And every consignment shop.
    They don’t keep records? They pay in cash after they sell the goods? Get real.
    And every used book store.
    You got me there. The huge market in stolen books is being completely unaddressed.
    And every used CD/album store.
    When I unloaded my vinyl (I regret it now), ID was required and recorded.
    And every cash bank transaction under $10K.
    I see you haven’t tried to cash a check lately.
    And you are still dodging my question.
    This one?
    You’re proposing implementing stricter regulations which will simply shift the market entry point of the stolen goods. Is there evidence that it will reduce the crime rate?
    I’m comfortable averring that making selling stolen property more difficult and less profitable to sell will reduce the amount of theft. No, I’m not doing any online reserch on it.
    “Willful ignorance” is a meaningless phrase. But you knew that too.
    I thought it meant something like this –
    A willful neglect or refusal to acquire knowledge which one may acquire and it is his/her duty to have.

  53. robc,
    Merely giving credit where it’s due.

  54. And every cash bank transaction under $10K.

    I tried to cash a check, at the issuing bank and they asked me for my thumbprint (the check was for less than $10,000).

  55. Well you know J sub D, for all those instances you’ve had to show ID and be documented, I’ve done all of those things for cash with no documentation. And hey, maybe since Detroit’s Larceny and Theft rates are lower than the national average, maybe all of those piles of regulations do have some effect.

    ‘course, seeing that you’ll get your car stolen and have your house burned down in Detroit, why worry about letting piles of regulation which may/may not have an effect on the outliers of criminal activity get in the way of other crime prevention? Everything else is under control, right?

  56. And every used book store.
    You got me there. The huge market in stolen books is being completely unaddressed.

    My buddy worked at a used book store that paid cash for books. One time, a guy came in and asked which books would the store always be guaranteed to buy. My buddy told him that the store always sold out of Harry Potter and chess books. Every week, this guy comes in with stacks of Harry Potter and books on chess. Guess the guy’s job?

    Security guard for Barnes & Noble.

  57. David —

    (FULL DISCLOSURE: The company I work for, LeadsOnline, currently has the only working metal theft tracking system in the U.S. See the link in my name for more information.)

    Looking at the article you referenced, it seems to me that this new law could likely be complied with for a lot less money than stated in the story.

    First off, most established scrap yards already have computerized systems helping them track sales, purchases, and inventory. Systems like Scrap Dragon and 21st Century are some of the more popular available. Though these software packages can be costly, there are not too many yards which do not already have them or a similar product. These are sunk costs and all that needs be done is to adapt them to support this new reporting requirement.

    Second, many systems already have cameras attached. The pictures from scrap yards that I have seen (yes, I have experience in this) are low quality, webcam type pictures. I’d be amazed if it cost more than $30 per for the cameras attached to these systems.

    Third, these laws are designed to combat theft from sites OTHER than scrap yards. Construction sites, empty homes, schools, churches, city light fixtures, telephone cable, etc. are the crime scenes here, not the scrap yards. The information in the story about the measures the yard owner has taken to prevent theft from his business, while perhaps relevant to the article, does not address the problem the legislation is designed to fight.

    Finally, this problem can be addressed without putting a single business out of . . . er, business. LeadsOnline has proven this: we’ve helped hundreds of scrap yards comply with laws just like this one at little or no cost.*

    Dozens of cities and states are working on this problem right now. I have an almost 40-page list of legislation across the country which has been proposed to fight this problem. That’s just at the state level and I know I’ve probably missed some!

    (I do government relations for LeadsOnline . . . that’s why I have such an odd list. 😉

    Since the huge rise in the price of copper began a few years ago – from about $0.75 per pound in 2003 to over $3.40 today, a 350% increase in just five years – metal theft has become increasingly profitable and thus more people are putting more effort into it. We’ve seen people stealing everything from gravesite urns to little league bleachers to aluminum siding to copper gutters to pizza pans!

    To give just one example of how costly this is to society . . . a single school in Fort Worth had more than $130,000 worth of damage done to it the other day when thieves stole the A/C coils out just 22 units. (http://tinyurl.com/4q9tvv)

    Utility, phone companies, and cities get hit hard too. One large phone company told me that they had more than $8M in damage done by copper theft last year. Guess who pays to fix that damage . . . we all do.

    A crime which nets the thief less than $100 in copper often costs a company or municipality more than $5000 to repair.

    The key to solving the problem while protecting businesses is to find a way to work WITH them, rather than treat them as criminals who must be disciplined.

    That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on here at LeadsOnline: we give law enforcement everything they need to investigate crime while simultaneously working with businesses to make their reporting as easy and as seamless as possible. Over all of our systems (we do stolen property and pseudoephedrine tracking, too), we’ve done this for almost 5000 businesses to date. We’re good at it.

    If anyone wants more information, you can visit our website at http://www.leadsonline.com.

    If you’d like to know about the meth lab fighting tool we just rolled out across all of Arkansas, go to our other website, http://www.leadsonlabs.com.

    Or you can contact me via the email address on our website.

    John O’Brien

    Director of Communications and Government Relations
    LeadsOnline/LeadsOnlabs

    * Beyond any fees imposed by the state. We have no control over these fees, never ask for a law to include them, and do not receive a dime from them.

  58. I have over 20 years experience in retail bookselling. Whenever one of the stores I worked at got hit by a thief, or team of thieves, as opposed to the shoplifter boosting one book, we would call up area used bookshops and warn them about what was missing. Serious book thieves target the art section, figuring that they will only get a % of cover price from the eventual buyer, so they might as well start out with high ticket items. Computer titles, especially those with software CDs included were also pretty fungible.

    Those calls to the used book dealers would sometimes lead to arrests, BTW. Nowadays, what with all the online sites where individuals can sell used books and audio, the less dumb criminal might avoid a brick and mortar “fence.”

    One lovely scam is stealing a book from store A, and trying to return it at store B, for cash. That’s a low-level con, and the book most often chosen for it is the bible. “Ma’am, I don’t have a receipt because this was a gift from my Aunt Edna, but I have several bibles, and I’d much rather have the $30.00 to feed my babies….”

    Kevin

  59. The scrap metal dealers refused to police themselves, so the state has stepped in and I’m unclear as to the problem here.
    If they didn’t want this, they should have considered not accepting grave markers by the hundreds, brand-new construction materials, guttering from houses, and certain types of car parts.
    There is no “right” to directly profit from theft.
    The scrap business is much like the pawn business & is subject to easy and wide-spread abuse by the buyer and the seller.
    Buyers decided not to do anything about it. The state did it for them. I would have preferred that dealers managed to do it, but they decided not to every time they accepted things they had to know wasn’t legal.

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