Lexington considering ordinance to crack down on scrap-metal thefts

bfortune@herald-leader.comMarch 21, 2012 

An ordinance to crack down on copper thefts goes before the Urban County Council on Thursday.

It would require scrap-metal dealers to register with the Division of Police and obtain a $500 seller's permit. Dealers also would have to file daily reports with police, and hold copper and magnesium for three business days after purchasing it so police would have time to investigate. Materials suspected of being stolen could be held longer.

Individuals or businesses that sell scrap metal more than twice a year in Lexington also would have to buy a scrap-metal seller's licence. A license would be $30 for an individual, $150 for a business.

Similar legislation is being considered by the state legislature.

Scrap yards would be barred from paying cash for copper and other metals under legislation that cleared the Senate on Wednesday.

The state measure, House Bill 390, requires people who sell scrap metal to be paid by checks that would be sent by mail, a move that could give police names and addresses if the metals are later found to be stolen.

The Senate approved the bill 33-0, which now returns to the House because changes were made.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-South Shore, said metal thieves have taken guardrails, manhole covers, catalytic converters, utility lines, even rooftop air-conditioning units. Nationwide, copper thefts are estimated to cost businesses $1 billion a year.

Lexington council member Kevin Stinnett said the proposed Lexington ordinance was more stringent than the state legislation in that "it requires the seller's permit, plus an electronic database so the police have immediate access to the information."

Stinnett, who proposed the ordinance, said: "Our whole hope is to give police better information to do their job."

"It's the habitual criminal that we are targeting. The ordinance makes selling difficult."

In answer to critics, who say the proposed ordinance will drive criminals to surrounding counties to sell, Stinnett said, "Who pays more money? You're not going to drive 10 miles to make $10."

Exempt from the requirements would be licensed plumbers, heating and air-conditioning specialists, electricians, charitable groups, schools and industries that generate scrap metal in the usual course of business.

Sellers may obtain a license from a scrap-metal dealer, on the premises. "It's not like you have to make a special trip downtown. We've made it very convenient," Stinnett said. "Again, we want to know who's selling."

It is unlikely criminals will go get a license, he said. "They won't do it. That's the whole point. And dealers can't buy from them if they don't have a license."

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010 The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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