Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Metal theft legislation

The Nebraska Legislature is in session, and I've made a couple of trips down Lincoln Mall to the Capital so far to give testimony. About a week ago, I supported LB766, which is aimed at reducing the theft of valuable metals such as brass, aluminum, and copper. This has been a significant problem worldwide. Sen. Abbie Cornett, a retired Omaha police officer, introduced the bill, which establishes new requirements for buyers of such metals to thoroughly identify both the seller and the material. I told the committee about the apparent success of our ordinance here in Lincoln. Maybe if similar restrictions were in effect statewide, Lincoln's thefts could be even further reduced, since the market for stolen goods in other Nebraska cities would be further constricted. Here's my testimony at the committee hearing:
"The City of Lincoln supports LB766 because we believe it will help reduce the theft of high-value metals such as copper, brass, and aluminum by constricting the market for ill-gotten goods of this type. The bill will require identification of both the seller and the materials, including photo identification and a fingerprint. This will assist in investigations. Just as importantly though, we believe these measures will deter thieves due to the increased risk of apprehension.

These crimes cause large losses not only from theft, but from the property damage associated with the offense. It is common for us to investigate cases where thousands of dollars of damage has been done for a few dollars worth of copper or aluminum. Virtually all stolen metals must go through the rather small number of commercial buyers. By increasing the risk at that choke point, this bill will reduce the market for stolen metal significantly. There is no market for this material in the classified ads or on eBay, or from the trunk of a car in a parking lot.

The Lincoln City Council passed a Municipal Ordinance in 2006 that has some of the same provisions as LB766. I would like to tell you about that ordinance, and its impact. A unique feature of our ordinance is that it makes it unlawful for anyone who has been convicted of theft-related offenses during the past five years to sell salvage metals. This provision was essentially imported from our pawn shop ordinance, where it was adopted with some success in 2003. Another important feature is a requirement that high value metals such as brass, aluminum and copper be held for 72 hours prior to disposal or alteration. There are exceptions to this hold period for certain sellers.

Our city ordinance on salvage metals requires the same kinds of identifications steps for the seller contained in LB766, except the process can be simplified for sellers who obtain a $5 annual salvage permit from the police department. Essentially, we check the permit applicant’s history up front. For a permitted seller, the buyer has a shortened paperwork burden, and also avoids a 72 hour hold on the material that would otherwise be required. This has worked fairly well for us, and as of today, we have 389 permit holders. There is also an exemption in our ordinance for industrial sellers.

The ordinance became effective on December 1, 2006, and we experienced an immediate decline in metal thefts in Lincoln. The total number of metal thefts fell from 169 in 2006 to 128 in 2007, a 24% decrease. The dollar loss from theft and property damage fell from $169,672 to $114,443, a 33% decrease. I would expect similar results from the passage of LB766—especially if it includes a 72 hour hold provision."


Gun Nut said...

Just out of curiousity, wouldn't a theft over a certain dollar amount ($500?) be considered larceny which is already a felony?Also what amount of damage to property has to be incurred before that is a felony?

This sounds like good legislation but I haven't read the proposed bill yet.

Gun Nut

Tom Casady said...

Gun nut:

Yes, theft is a Class IV felony when the value of the thing involved is $500 or more. It's a Class III felony when the value is over $1,500.

Vandalism (the technical name in the State Statute is criminal mischief)is a Class IV felony if the loss is $1,500 or more. There is also a provision that makes criminal mischief a felony when it causes "a substantial interruption or impairment of public communication, transportation, supply of water, gas, or power, or other public service"--something that applies in many of these metal thefts.

wire lady said...

I have had my permit for almost 2 years. You are right it did make things easier for both parties-however now it doesn't matter if you have a permit or not-because anyone selling metals to a buyer is required to show photo ID and a finger print -thus no longer needing a permit.