Scrap metal: One man's treasure is city's headache

By Lisa Cornwell

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 14 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

The group says Alaska and North Dakota are the only states without laws addressing scrap metal theft, but it does not have information on whether any areas require licensing and background checks of vendors. A consultant for the Madison, Wis.-based Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, associated with the Justice Department, said that requiring licensing of dealers is not unusual, but that he wasn't aware of any jurisdictions with a "a blanket licensing provision."

Consultant Brandon Kooi, an associate professor of criminal justice at Aurora University in Aurora, Ill., said he "likes that this proposal is focusing on prevention." But he said it could lead to "gray markets" in which people without licenses would sell metal to those who do have them.

Cincinnati-based scrap recycler David J. Joseph Co. is concerned about the proposals, said Christopher Bedell, its vice president and general counsel.

"We have 70 recycling facilities across the country, and I know of no city that requires a criminal background check or licensing for vendors," he said.

Sellers likely would go outside of the city to sell scrap, Bedell said, even though city officials say they plan to urge surrounding areas to adopt similar rules.

"The licensing requirements for vendors will not solve the problem of theft," Bedell said. "They will just discourage recycling."

Kevin Lawlor, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., wouldn't comment specifically on Cincinnati but said that the "vast majority" of scrap metal sales do not involve stolen items, and that laws discouraging vendors or dealers from recycling hurt the environment and the economy.

But "something has to be done to help the victims," who can face thousands of dollars in replacement and repair costs, Cincinnati Councilman Wendell Young said.

Among Ohio cities, Cleveland and Columbus have scrap metal ordinances, but officials say they do not require licensing or criminal background checks of vendors. George Speaks, Columbus' deputy director of public safety and a member of a statewide consortium looking at ways to strengthen Ohio's scrap metal law, said he doesn't know of any Ohio jurisdiction with those requirements.

State Sen. Bill Seitz is pushing legislation to toughen statewide law. The Cincinnati Republican's bill would require scrap dealers to take and keep photographs of scrap sellers. That would expand upon current requirements that sellers show identification cards.

If the Cincinnati licensing requirement is passed, Scarberry said, she'll try to buy one.

"I hope we can get one," she said. "If not, we'd just be out of luck. That would be tough."

Associated Press writer Dan Sewell contributed to this report.

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