Copper thieves targeted in scrap metal law taking effect Aug. 1
by Eddie Burkhalter
Jun 18, 2012 | 6676 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Fresh dirt marks where Roberts Chapel Baptist Church outside Piedmont replaced copper lines stolen by thieves. (Anniston Star photo by Eddie Burkhalter)
Fresh dirt marks where Roberts Chapel Baptist Church outside Piedmont replaced copper lines stolen by thieves. (Anniston Star photo by Eddie Burkhalter)
PIEDMONT — After thieves struck a small rural church on Maxwellborn Road south of Piedmont recently, ripping copper piping from a propane tank and cutting lines to an air conditioning unit, church members said the dollar value of the damage done was likely greater than that of the metal they stole.

A new law signed by Gov. Robert Bentley last month was crafted to help local law enforcement investigate just this type of crime. The law aims to reduce metal thefts by increasing identification requirements for sellers and buyers of scrap metals. It will take effect Aug. 1.

Roberts Chapel Baptist Church member Mike Morrow said thieves got very little copper, a small amount of electrical wire and 12 feet of tubing. But they left the church with more than $600 in bills to replace lost coolant, propane and missing lines.

“It’s pretty sad that they’d hit a church,” Morrow said Friday.

Sponsored by state Rep. Bill Poole, R-Northport, and state Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile, the law requires that sellers of scrap metal be photographed, give information to more specifically identify their vehicles and provide a copy of a personal identification card.

Scrap metal dealers and recyclers also must submit all of that information to a statewide database maintained by the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center, where it must be kept for at least one year.

The law also makes stealing from a school or church a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Piedmont police Chief Steven Tidwell applauds the new law, saying any new tool at his disposal is a good thing. With around 60 new metal theft cases each year, Tidwell said, the law is sorely needed.

Tidwell pointed to the portion of the law that requires a record of more specific identifying information about a seller’s vehicle. Under the law, buyers would have to record the seller’s type of vehicle — auto, pickup, van — in addition to the tag number, or vehicle identification number if no tag exists.

“Sometimes the tags on the vehicles have been switched or are outdated,” Tidwell said. He compared the requirement to store scrap-sellers information in a statewide database to a similar successful program used to cut down on methamphetamine production.

“The statewide ephedrine sales database has been very helpful in combating the meth problem, and a database for scrap metal sales would be a great tool,” Tidwell said.

The legislation in its earlier stages, however, had some scrap metal dealers concerned that the law would be too restrictive. Kenneth Martin, owner of Guntersville Metal Recycling, told The Star in February a proposal that would require mailing checks to every customer selling any scrap metal would be too costly for his business. Others agreed with Martin, and after negotiating with scrap buyers and recyclers, legislators removed that requirement.

In the final bill the threshold at which a recycler must pay for scrap copper with a check was lowered from $100 to $50. Cash will still be an acceptable form of payment for other metals and for copper in amounts under $50.

“It may be a whole lot better now. I hope that it is,” Martin said Friday.

When asked if he thought the new law, and the threat of a felony conviction if caught, might help deter future metal thefts at churches, Morrow said it isn’t likely.

“I doubt it, because they’re probably blown out of their minds (on drugs) when they do such as that,” Morrow said. “They don’t care.”

Star staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @burkhalter_star.
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