LI lawmakers aim to stop copper thefts

April 8, 2008 3:27:03 PM PDT
Copper is the hot metal of the moment, and because it's so expensive, it's becoming popular with thieves. Even a church was not immune.

Now, there is an effort to track the buying and selling of it.

Long Island reporter Lauren DeFranco has more on the story.

The crime of stealing metal and selling it has become big business. Now, local lawmakers say they have figured out a way to stop these theives by putting pressure on the scrap metal industry.

"A lot of the ladies, when they saw the damage, the tears started rolling," church deacon Chuck Hollet said. "But we pull together, and we're getting things straightened out."

Parishioners at the Half Hollow Community Church are still upset over a burglary that happened a few weeks ago. They are installing a new security system after vandals ripped off all of the copper pipes and even stole a brass cross.

"The bottom of your stomach kind of falls out, to think that they would bother with a church," Hollet said.

The crooks bother because the prices of copper and aluminum have sky-rocketed over the last few years, so the crime of stealing metal and selling it is escalating.

An undercover police video demonstrates part of the problem, that scrap metal companies unknowingly buy stolen metals and don't always ask for identification.

"I'm not looking to point the finger," Suffolk County lawmakers Jack Eddington said. "What I am doing is asking the industry to step up and help us."

Lawmakers in both counties are introducing a bill to help police track down the thieves. It will force scrap metal companies to electronically report all purchases worth up to $1,500.

"You're not going to go and steal a 50-pound cross if you know that you can't sell it," Nassau County lawmaker David Mejias said. "Because if you do sell it, it will be transmitted electronically to the police and they will have a record for that sale."

Industry insiders say reporting like this would be virtually impossible. Lawmakers will vote on the bill later this month.