Editorial - Metal thefts deserve added attention
Stealing metal may seem like an extotic crime but it's serious business that demands serious attention.
It's happened right here in Douglas County: thieves stealing copper wiring, scrap metal shavings and high-grade aluminum from local businesses.
The crimes seem to be getting bolder on the state and national level. Last week, for instance, brass vases valued at $10,000 were stolen from a cemetery in Mahtomedi. A crime study showed that metal theft has jumped more than 80 percent in recent years, as thieves steal high-priced metal from critical infrastructure as well as businesses, homes, churches and even veterans' graves — causing families pain and threatening public safety.
That's why we're glad to see lawmakers address the issue. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota has introduced bipartisan legislation, which recently passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, that would help crack down on thieves and make it harder for them to sell stolen metal.
Klobuchar worked with Senators Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, and Chuck Schumer, D-New York, to draft the Metal Theft Prevention Act. The legislation is headed for a vote in the full Senate.
The act would help crack down on metal thieves and make it harder for them to sell stolen metal. U.S. Congressman Erik Paulsen (R-MN) has introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
"This latest incident of thieves stealing from cemeteries to make a quick buck is another example of how metal theft is wreaking havoc in cities and towns across Minnesota," Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar pointed out that between 2009 and 2011, the National Insurance Crime Bureau found more than 25,000 insurance claims related to metal theft, an increase of 81 percent over claims made between 2006 and 2008. In a recent study, the U.S. Department of Energy found that the total value of damages to industries affected by the theft of copper wire would likely exceed more than $900 million each year.
The Metal Theft Prevention Act calls for enforcement by the attorney general and gives state attorneys general the ability to bring civil actions to enforce the provisions of the legislation. It also directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review penalty guidelines as they relate to metal theft and make sure they are adequate. The bill also makes it an explicit federal crime to steal metal from critical infrastructure.
In addition, the legislation would also make it much tougher for thieves to sell stolen metals to scrap metal dealers. It contains a "Do Not Buy" provision, which bans scrap metal dealers from buying certain items unless the sellers establish, by written documentation, that they are authorized to sell the secondary metal in question.
As a result of the bill, scrap metal dealers would be required to keep detailed records of secondary metal purchases for two years and make them available to law enforcement agencies. The bill would also require that purchases of scrap metal of more than $100 be done by check instead of cash, to further help law enforcement track down thieves.
The legislation makes sense. It should make metal thieves think twice before committing their crime and help authorities in their investigations.