Construction Supplies Aren’t Scrap
May is historically the month with the most metal theft. While this is not a new crime, according to Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, it is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country. Unfortunately this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the economy and putting so many people out of work, there’s a much larger group of people looking for money any way they can get it.
Copper and lead are some of the highest paying scrap metal prices in California. Even though copper prices are down compared to this time last year, it’s still up from a 5-year low. Thus, it’s no wonder thieves are quick to look for and swipe construction supplies — from pipe to wiring and everything in between — that are made of or contain these metals.
Because copper, lead, aluminum, nickel, stainless steel and other metals have become such a desired target of criminals looking to make a quick buck, here is some insight on preventing metal theft from the jobsite:
Laws on the books
Metal theft and the purchase of stolen metal is a crime. All 50 state legislatures have passed laws intended to combat the growth in metals theft over recent years. The California State Legislature passed several bills intended to make it more difficult for thieves to earn money selling stolen metal. They include:
SB 691 (2008) and AB-844 (2008): These bills prohibit junk dealers and recyclers from providing payment for non-ferrous metals (copper, copper alloys, stainless steel, or aluminum, but does not include CRV beverage containers) until three days after the date of sale, with some exceptions. The law also requires a junk or scrap metal dealer or metal recycler to obtain a photograph or video of the seller and certain other identifying information such as a thumbprint and a copy of the seller’s drivers’ license or picture ID. Additionally, at the time of the sale, the junk dealer or recycler must obtain a clear photograph or video of the nonferrous material being purchased. These records are then kept on file for at least two years. The law states that if a criminal is caught, anyone convicted of metal theft must pay restitution for the stolen materials and for any damage caused during the theft.
SB-143: A junk dealer or recycler shall not provide payment for nonferrous material unless specific requirements are met and the law prohibits materials such as any manhole cover or lid or reasonably recognizable part of such, as well as any backflow device or connection to that device.
AB-1859: This law imposes a criminal fines of up to $3,000 and imprisonment in the state prison, or in a county jail for not more than one year for anyone who buys or receives, for the purpose of salvage, any part of a fire hydrant or a fire department connection when they know that the material has been stolen.
AB-2312: This requires all scrap metal recycling operations in California to subscribe to a regional theft alert system that provides updates on any reported stolen items within 100 miles of their business. The theft alert system will help prevent the purchase of stolen metals and is provided free of charge to recyclers and law enforcement.
In addition to these state laws, there may also be local ordinances that impact the siting and operation of scrap metal recycling sites.
Preventing metal theft
It is important to be proactive and put measures in place to reduce the risk of metal theft on the jobsite. Some ways to do this include:
- Secure building access with deadbolts on doors and window locks.
- Increase exterior lighting on buildings and yard perimeter as necessary.
- Secure all equipment and scrap metal in locked containers or well-lit and secured areas.
- Keep areas clear to prohibit access to buildings and roofs via nearby trees, ladders, scaffolding, dumpsters or pallets.
- Check perimeter fencing for access points. Post “No Trespassing” and CPP Reward Hotline decals and signs to indicate the presence of a surveillance.
- Install security cameras with video recordings.
- Mark batteries: Brand or etch a company logo, owner-applied number or even spray paint a specific, uniform mark such as a blue line or red dot. (Be sure to report the marking and its location if the item is stolen.)
- Never leave keys in a vehicle; lock or secure it. (Note that catalytic converter theft is also on the rise.)
Metal theft and the purchase of stolen metal is a crime; it is always important to report crime. When we choose to not report a crime – we are sending a message to the bad guys that they are in control and we’re OK with them continuing to take advantage of our hard work and profits. When you file the report, be sure to include any information regarding company markings or brandings on the supplies. Law enforcement and private agencies investigate theft of all kinds of metal, but providing insight about distinguishing marks and communicating with organizations such as CPP will assist them in their efforts. If you notice missing metal from your jobsite or have information regarding illegal behavior at a scrap metal recycling site, contact your local police or sheriff’s department.
To make sure your construction firm is prepared and working toward crime prevention, consider becoming a CPP SoCal member. Crime is preventable and experience has shown what we strive to prove every day: “Together, We Make A Difference!”