Authorities credit law with decrease in scrap metal thefts - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Authorities credit law with decrease in scrap metal thefts

By Ben Watson - bio | email | Follow us on Twitter

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Memphis police say a new law has caused a drastic drop in the number of copper thefts from air conditioners and other devices.

But the news is just a little late for some Mid-South theft victims.  Cut hoses and wires were all Charles Miller found when he went to check on his home's air conditioner last week.

"It was ripped out of the wall," he said.

Ripped out while Miller and his wife were asleep inside the house.

"It was definitely planned, and I believe it was, you know, a planned operation," he said.

According to Memphis police, air-conditioning thefts like Miller's were on the rise last year.  Investigators say thieves were stealing and selling the copper inside to scrap yards.

"We were tapping a million bucks in thefts around our city," Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin said Tuesday. "They were hitting our cell towers. They were hitting everything."

However, according to Godwin, new statistics indicate that there has been an 86.7 percent drop in the number of copper thefts compared to this time last year.  Godwin credits a new law that requires people selling copper to be thumb printed, and show I.D when selling scrap metal.
"Things like that make me feel good, but I still think that, you know, this is a problem in Memphis," Miller said.

Miller says he has a plan for the next time thieves try to steal an air conditioner from his house: a metal cage to protect his air conditioner, which he plans on keeping locked.

Tennessee police departments, sheriff's departments and district attorneys across the state lobbied hard for the new scrap metal law, which also puts restrictions on companies that buy scrap metal.

More information about the scrap metal law:

  • Under the bill, a scrap metal dealer must be registered with the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance.
  • A scrap metal dealer could not purchase or otherwise acquire scrap metal from a person unless the person presents a state or federal photo ID and provides a thumbprint.
  • A dealer would be required to keep a record of each transaction, maintain the record on site for at least three years, and make it available for inspection by law enforcement.
  • If the metal being sold is in whole or in part copper, payment must be made by check (with the exception of a pre-registered authorized employee of a company) and sent to a business address or address listed on the seller’s drivers license.  In the alternative, a seller may be issued a voucher redeemable in five days.
  • Creates a Class A misdemeanor for a first and second offense and a Class E felony for a third or subsequent offense of: Engaging in the scrap metal business without being registered, Buying stolen property, or buying in violation of the requirements of the legislation.
  • Creates a Class A misdemeanor for selling or buying: Scrap metal marked with the name of a public entity, privately-owned scrap-metal with the name of a business or owner attached to it.
  • Elevates criminal trespass on a construction site or utility property with intent to steal or destroy equipment from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor of aggravated criminal trespass.
  • No significant fiscal impact to enactment


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