Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Solving the $6.7 Million Problem

It’s frustrating, it’s illegal and it’s expensive. When someone steals copper or downspouts from a residence, it may seem like a minor crime but to the victims of these crimes, it’s not minor at all. In the city of St. Louis, burglaries of scrap items are up by an astonishing 36%. Our Detectives have found that the criminals are most often stealing scrap items with the intent to sell their illegal haul to scrap metal dealers. In the past 18 months, we estimate that victims have lost at least $6.7 million due to metal-related thefts and burglaries. And that estimate is just the tip of the iceberg. It does not include the costs for repairs, the costs of the time victims take off work to get those repairs made or the costs of higher insurance premiums passed along to everyone.

The police department is fighting back. Our Rapid Deployment Unit—officers who supplement patrol officers—have identified and targeted some of the areas where these criminals seem to be striking most. Their supplemental patrols have led to several arrests of prolific scrap metal thieves. We’re also letting citizens know that if you spray paint your copper with identifiable markings or engrave your air condition unit with identifiable information, it often makes them less attractive targets for thieves. We’ve also spoken with hundred of citizens who are active in their neighborhood watch groups and who have made it known that they will do all they can to work with police to protect their neighborhoods. Still, what we believe would attack this problem more quickly than almost anything else, is a change in the law.

Our Detectives have found that many scrap metal thieves are stealing to feed a drug habit and in fact, many of those who we have arrested for stealing scrap metal have admitted that their goal was to get cash immediately in hopes of using that money to buy drugs immediately. While our undercover officers frequently work operations to identify and arrest drug dealers, another way to zero in on these scrap metal thefts is Board Bill 86. Board Bill 86 would require that scrap metal dealers pay by check, after a three-day wait. Sponsored by Alderwoman Donna Baringer and co-sponsored by Aldermen Charles Troupe, Larry Arnowitz, Fred Wessels, Jeffrey Boyd and Shane Cohn, Board Bill 86 would remove the one major incentive these scrap metal thieves have---getting paid in cash on the spot. While we believe a customer who is legally selling scrap metal won’t be deterred by a three-day wait, we believe those selling scrap to get quick cash for a quick high, WILL be deterred. The Bill would also require that scrap metal dealers computerize their records, just as pawn shops are required to do. This could be a useful tool for police who are attempting to identify those who may have sold stolen scrap metal just as pawn shop records allow us to identify those who have pawned stolen items.

When our police leaders have spoken to citizens and community groups about the scrap metal problems and Board Bill 86, there has been overwhelming support. Be sure to let your Alderman or Alderwoman know where you stand on Board Bill 86. It could be a major step in solving this multi-million dollar problem.

Read Board Bill 86 here

Find Your Alderman’s Contact Information here