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A welcome escalation in the war on metal thievery

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Nov. 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm with No Comments »
November 16, 2012 5:33 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

If the cats are the police and the mice are metal thieves, the mice are winning.

States, counties and cities have spent years churning out laws to prevent thieves – often drug addicts – from stripping American civilization of its copper.

Much of the enforcement focuses on scrap metal dealers, who – innocently, for the most part – make the thievery profitable. Dealers are now required to meticulously document their purchases and identify the sellers.

It hasn’t worked, or at least it hasn’t worked very well. The continuing damage thieves are doing to buildings, signs, light poles and other metal-rich objects attests to their ingenuity at frustrating the law.

The Tacoma City Council has just taken its own swing at the underground market. A new ordinance authored by councilmembers Marty Campbell and Victoria Woodards would, among other things, require dealers to put distinctively undersized license plates on the trucks they send out to pick up scrap.

It seems an excellent idea.

Lots of people haul loads of old metal around town: small contractors, drivers for construction and demolition companies, ordinary folks getting rid of things that have been sitting in their backyards a couple of decades too long.

They won’t get stopped by police merely because there’s something rusty or shiny in the truck bed.

But if a couple of guys in a truck are driving through a neighborhood, prowling for scrap, and they don’t have the special dealer’s license, the police will have probable cause to stop them for a little chat.

It’s worth a try. So is a broader initiative from the City Council, which aims to create a regional – and ultimately statewide – “no buy” list that would prevent convicted metal thieves from selling anything metallic. State lawmakers, take note.

Metal theft is not the stuff of Hollywood thrillers. But the crime is immensely destructive.

Thieves have stripped wire out of utility substations and power lines; they’ve disabled streetlights and crippled highway safety signs. They’ve ripped brass handles off the Pagoda at Point Defiance Park, made off with bronze statues and cemetery urns.

Two years ago, they tore copper wiring out of Tacoma’s Murray Morgan Bridge, causing $300,000 worth of damage. In rural areas, they loot sprinklers and other farm equipment.

In the scheme of things, individual metal thefts tend to be piddling, nonviolent crimes. Taken together, they are a plague that must be stopped. The City Council deserves credit for bringing some ingenuity to the fight.

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