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Material Handling
Monday | 19 December, 2011 | 10:09 am

Stifling metal snatchers

By Gretchen Salois

Scotland scrap metal regulations seek to curb spiraling theft

December 2011 - News reports tell stories of homeowners awakening to find their homes’ pipes stripped of copper, schools’ air conditioning units damaged because of metal theft, defaced public memorials and utility outages as a result of metal thieves. The Scottish government is focusing on metal dealers and is considering enforcing higher regulations. Similar notions are arising in the United States, except stateside efforts place focus on the thieves.

Although the Scottish government has no plans to change taxation arrangements for metal dealers, any changes to taxation would have to be considered by the U.K. government. “What we [the U.K.] are considering is tighter regulation for those who deal in scrap metal,” says Ross Clark, communications officer for the Scottish government. “There is already a licensing scheme for metal dealers but it only applies to those whose turnover is under £100,000. With the passage of time and the increase in metal prices, the £100,000 limit is regarded as inadequate by Scottish ministers.”

Clark says the government soon will consult on increasing the turnover exemption level. “This will have the effect of drawing many more metal dealers into the licensing regime,” Clark continues. “Once licensed, they will have to abide by licensing conditions, which may include CCTV recording and better record keeping, among other measures.”

In efforts to gauge the necessity of tax increase measures, the government is considering researching local law enforcement records to see how rampant thefts have become and whether tighter regulation for scrap metal dealers is needed.

Across the globe and online
While Scottish regulators focus on the dealers, Gary Bush, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc.’s law enforcement liaison and director of material theft protection, has seen metal theft from an investigator’s standpoint. Metal theft is not a new phenomenon in North America. Although law enforcement has combatted the issue for years, this is the first in online efforts allowing citizens to communicate and help law enforcement catch thieves. People can log on to ScrapTheftAlert.com to report any suspected thefts in their city or province. In conjunction with ISRI and the Canadian Association of Recycling Industries, the site asks first-time users to register to report any suspected metals-related theft in their area.

According to the website, the scrap recycling industry is attacking the problem proactively. The site is meant as a tool for local law enforcement as users alert them to “significant thefts of materials in the United States and Canada.” Alerts are validated and reviewed and then emailed to all subscribed users within a 100-mile radius of where the theft allegedly occurred.

Bush, who served as a law enforcement officer for 32 years, also combatted metal theft during that time. He emphasizes the site is an important tool for law enforcement. “Prior to this site, I’d have to get in the car and be on the phone to see what I was looking for,” Bush says. “This site alerts law enforcement within minutes and anything within a 100-mile radius.”

With an increasing number of registrants, the site is being used more than ever. According to Bush, there are 12,182 registered users in North America. Of those, 4,385 of those registered are members of law enforcement. “Metal theft has affected the recycling industry for two decades and using fax as a way to alert law enforcement is outdated. This website is just the next step,” Bush says. Since the system came online in mid-December 2008, it has received 6,099 alerts, which doesn’t include any reports of thefts that are not reported to the site. “Since February this year, there has been an uptick of alerts in the system, which could indicate either an increase in theft or the fact that more people are registering in order to report the crime,” Bush adds.

The website is intended to allow both the community and law enforcement to work together to curtail theft head-on and is free to register. “It’s free because the industry wants to be part of the solution, not the problem,” Bush says. MM


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