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OFBF examining Ohio's metal theft law
Buckeye Farm News
Last year, Ohio legislators tried to make it harder for unlawful owners of beer kegs, grave markers, guardrails, manhole covers and other metal materials to cash in their goods.
After a sharp rise in metal theft, the state issued a new law for scrap dealers that called for thorough recordkeeping and put restrictions on commonly stolen items.
Farm Bureau members have called on the organization to take additional action after a discussion at the 2008 annual meeting revealed farmers still struggle with metal theft; one farmer reported a $100,000 loss when thieves targeted some of his equipment.
“As it turns out, the new law doesn’t seem to go far enough,” said Larry Gearhardt, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation senior director of local affairs.
Farm Bureau is analyzing metal theft laws in Arizona and California to see if they may offer additional remedies to Ohio’s problems.
A major concern is that, in addition to taking metal, thieves often cause extensive damage to property. The problem became apparent when scrap metal prices reached record highs last year.
“They were going into vacant houses and stripping out anything that had copper and aluminum,” said Lt. Bill Kobel of the Coshocton County Sheriff’s Office.
Although scrap prices have come down, Kobel said it would be safe to assume the risk of crime has increased with the poor economy.
“Farmers are known for being trusting souls, so they don’t lock up their machine sheds or their barns…but if (something valuable) isn’t locked up, somebody’s going to walk off with it,” he said.
A notable case in Madison County last year involved a man who sold stolen grain wagons as scrap. A witness said the suspect was apprehended on the interstate driving 40 to 50 mph with a wagon hitched to his small car.
More recently, a Scioto County man received Farm Bureau's $2,500 reward for helping police track down a thief he saw pulling copper wire out of the ground and from a gas pump at a farm supply business.
The new law requires scrap dealers to record all purchases, along with the seller’s name, residence, a copy of their I.D. and vehicle description. Dealers may not accept items from individuals under age18.
The law also flags a long list of items that should draw suspicion (a street sign, for example). Scrap dealers must photograph these materials and obtain proof of ownership from the seller. Payment for those items must be by check, creating a paper trail.
Overall, scrap dealers were on board with the new regulations, according to Joel Fogel, president of the Ohio Valley chapter of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a national trade association. But he was displeased that the law lets local municipalities enact stricter rules that may lack uniformity.
“Our industry wants nothing more than to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” Fogel said.
He also said he was open to a wide variety of record keeping requirements, but would resist “tag and hold” provisions.
“That’s really the only issue that our industry has fought against,” he said.
Such policies, which are specifically prohibited under Ohio’s law, require scrap dealers to retain materials for a specified time period, in hopes that stolen items could be identified and linked to the thieves.
But because scrap metal is sold as a commodity, Fogel said dealers need to be able to respond to daily price fluctuations. Additionally, dealers may conduct hundreds of transactions each day, and stockpiling material in limited space is “just not feasible,” he said.
Like any industry, there will be some businesses that simply don’t follow the rules, Fogel said.
Because metal theft remains a concern in rural Ohio, Gearhardt said Farm Bureau will continue to seek solutions.
“One of our challenges is that Ohio just passed this new law,” he said. “We’re making the case that we may need to revisit this issue.”