A new law requiring scrap yards to get more information from sellers went into effect this month. Gov. John Kasich signed the law earlier this year that mandates yards that deal in scrap record the license plate numbers of people bringing in scrap to sell as well as taking their pictures.
Anyone who does not show their information or allow their picture to be taken will not be allowed to sell their items.
One goal is to create an electronic database of those who sell scrap to make it easier for law enforcement to track illegal sales or purchases. The law mandates that the registry be completed by the end of 2013.
James Penrose of Niles says he often takes items to be scrapped to Niles Iron & Metal. Here, he scraps a microwave. New state regulations this month require scrap yards to collect more information about customers.
Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple
There's also a list of items that are popular with thieves that will also be distributed to scrap yards to watch out for and daily reports must also be completed by scrap yards.
Trumbull County Deputy Sheriff Harold Wix is part of a task force that looks into scrap metal theft in the county.
Wix said he thinks the law will help him in his job a lot, especially with information on cars. He also said it will make it harder for people to steal things and then sell them in another part of the state because of the increased record keeping.
Scrap by state
The top five states generating the most metal theft claims (2009-11):
Ohio - 2,398
Texas - 2,023
Georgia - 1,481
California - 1,348
Illinois - 1,284
Source: National Insurance Crime Bureau
''This will cut down on out of town sales,'' Wix said.
Warren police and fire departments also have a lot of crime dealing with scrap metal theft.
Spokesman Sgt. Jeff Cole said he was not entirely familiar with the new law but said he likes the changes where driver information has to be recorded.
''That will help us a lot,'' Cole said.
In Youngstown, Patrolman Dave Santangelo investigates scrap metal crimes almost exclusively. Santangelo said the database will be a big help to law enforcement once it is up because it will be harder for thieves to not leave a trail when they sell merchandise.
Santangelo also said one of the best provisions in the law is a requirement that all scrap dealers must be registered with the state. He said too often, thieves will steal materials, sell them to another person for a low price and then that person will turn around and sell it to a scrap yard for a larger profit.
That is a problem that has been cropping up in the city lately, Santangelo said. He said that provision is designed for a person who sells scrap on a regular basis who may be skirting the law rather than the person who may go once or twice a year to sell items legitimately.
Lately in Youngstown, Santangelo said thieves are stealing metal like I-beams from storage yards and structural steel. Sewer grates and manhole covers are also big-ticket items. He estimates the city has probably lost 350 of those two items combined in the last year.
In Trumbull County, Wix said the big-ticket items are copper pipes and copper wire. He said the large number of vacant homes in the county are easy targets for thieves to get metal they can sell for scrap.
The sheriff's department has had cases where thieves have cut down fiber optic wires from telephone poles to sell the copper inside for scrap. In December, they arrested three people who had 495 feet of wire in their van from the Braceville area.
In Warren, police have taken reports of thieves who at one point were punching walls in vacant Trumbull Metropolitan Housing Authority complexes and going from unit to unit, stripping them of copper pipes.
Wix said he expects once scrap yards get used to the new law they will be able to begin putting a dent in the illegal scrap trade.
''That's when we'll really start to see some progress,'' Wix said.
Wix said he has had a good working relationship with the local scrap yards.
Gary Clayman, head of Niles Iron & Metal, said his company already records driver's information when they come into his yard.
''We've been doing that on our own for awhile,'' Clayman said.
Santangelo said it is important to get the public's help in combating the problem.
''The more help we get from the public, the better,'' Santangelo said.