The dramatic increase in scrap metal theft around the state has pushed lawmakers to create a new law making it more difficult for thieves to steal, profit from it and then escape law enforcement.

House Bill 106 went into effect July 15 and requires metal dealers to record purchase transactions on a form and keep the form for two years.

Upon request, the dealers are required to provide the forms to law enforcement agencies for the purpose of identifying the perpetrators of metal thefts.

“It’s been a while coming,” said Capt. Ken Clark, public affairs officer for the Berea Police Department. “But I think it will certainly help us now that there’s a state law requiring (junkyard operators) to keep a log.”

The new law will eliminate the leeway thieves used to have when it came to stealing copper or other metals, said Madison County Sheriff Nelson O’Donnell.

“(The law) will fix it so there won’t be an outlet for it,” he said. “You can’t sell it without at least showing some kind of identification.”

Metal theft is something that the Sheriff’s Department deals with “pretty much every day,” O’Donnell said.

There are several different sources for metals, including new houses (the copper tubing that plumbers install), metal substations around the city and utility poles, Clark said.

There is almost $12,000 worth of copper in a 1,200-square-foot house, O’Donnell said.

“They’re stealing the manhole covers from the streets, and that’s very dangerous,” Clark said. “They’re made out of cast metal.”

Some thieves have gone as far to steal the metal siding off mobile homes, he said.

If there is anything positive about the recent scrap metal theft craze, it is that many of the county’s illegal dump sites are being cleaned out, but not out of good will.

“You used to see all these junk cars, washers and dryers, but they’re not there anymore,” Clark said.

Catalytic converters were and still are among some of the most commonly stolen items.

To thieves, taking the catalytic converters takes less time and is just about as profitable as spending several hours ripping copper wiring out of homes, Clark said after a rash of catalytic converter thefts at the end of 2007.

“It’s the same M.O. (method of operation), but you have the same M.O. throughout Kentucky and the nation,” he said. “It’s something that’s been going on for two or three years now. Usually, they can take catalytic converters to a junkyard and get $80 to $120 for one of them.”

The metal or scrap buyers need not worry about being charged with receiving stolen property, Clark said.

“We can’t expect these scrap metal or junk dealers to do the police’s job,” he said. “But, by putting certain steps into place, I can take things as evidence.”

The information contained on the form (that scrap dealers or junkyard operators will keep) will include the seller’s name, address and some form of proof of identity such as a driver’s license.

It also will include the make, model, color and license plate number of the vehicle transporting the material, a description of the material, its weight and quantity, the amount paid to the seller and the date and time of the transaction.

“With the price of copper and other metals on the rise, these materials are being increasingly targeted for theft,” said Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer. “The use of this form will help metal dealers partner with law enforcement agencies throughout the state to deter such unlawful activity.”

Under the new statute, the Kentucky State Police is charged with providing the tracking form to metals dealers. The form will be available online at www.kentuckystatepolice.org/pdf/ferrous metals.pdf. Paper copies can be obtained at any of KSP’s 16 posts throughout the state.

Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 234.

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