Bill would crack down on metal theft

Published 4:16 pm Friday, March 16, 2012

A bill making its way through the state Legislature could be welcomed news by residents and businesses in rural parts of the state, such as Chilton County.

The bill is an answer to the growing problem of metal theft, which is especially common in rural areas.

“This is worthwhile because of the number of churches that have been robbed, had their copper stolen, had thousands of dollars in damages. People from all over come in and rob them of their copper. It’s been a tragedy,” said state Sen. Cam Ward, who helped introduce a version of the bill in the Senate.

The Senate version of the bill passed weeks ago, and the House of Representatives approved a companion by an 83-8 vote on March 1. A final version is being considered by the House Judiciary Committee.

Copper and other metals have been targeted by thieves because of an increase in value for the metals. A thief might steal from a rural church or residence because of a lack of people around to report the crime, and then sell the metal to a scrap dealer.

The bill would require metal dealers to collect information from anyone they make a transaction with, and for a statewide digital database to be created for keeping track of these transactions, Ward said.

“When they know they have to give all that information and they don’t have anything to back it up, they’re not going to be selling this stuff,” Ward said.

The bill also increases criminal penalties, puts limits on case transactions and provides other safeguards, according to a press release.

“This bill will make a statement that we will not tolerate the damage and destruction to our churches, schools, businesses, homes, farm equipment and all other property damaged by copper and metal theft,” Attorney General Luther Strange said in the release. “This bill provides law enforcement with additional and vital tools needed to stop this destructive activity.”

Ward said he’s glad to be a part of introducing a bill to deal with the problem.

“As a state, we’re going to have to get serious about this,” he said.