Helping Law Enforcement Stop Metals Theft

Metals theft is not a victimless crime

Remains Of Stolen Bicycle On Rack
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Until recent years, the problem of metals theft was sporadic. Now, however, police departments are painfully aware that they are experiencing an increased frequency of metal theft across the country.

International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) First Vice President Terrence Cunningham, Chief of Police; Wellesley (MA) Police Department categorized the "precipitous increase in the number of metal thefts across the country "as a recent game changer."

"Metals theft is a crime that is being purely driven by economics," states Jonathan Thompson, Executive Director of the National Sheriffs' Association  "It is something we all need to be concerned about for a number of reasons. It can damage infrastructure. Things like railroads, schools, telecommunications and emergency response. People at the local level are the force multiplier for sheriffs, deputies and those in law enforcement. So when they see a problem and are concerned, there is nothing wrong with picking up a phone and asking for advice."

With a goal of aiding local law enforcement agencies in addressing the metals theft problem, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industry (ISRI) has launched a video, Fighting Metals Theft: Perspectives from Law Enforcement and Industry. Its goal is to share ideas and best practices with local police departments in regard to addressing this increasingly serious problem.

Collaborating with ISRI were the IACP and the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA). The video showcases the successful centralized metals theft unit at the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland.

Brady Mills, ISRI's director of law enforcement outreach, is quick to stress that metals theft is not a victimless crime.

He stresses that key to stopping the problem is effective communication and cooperation among local law enforcement professionals and recyclers alike. He notes that in jurisdictions where this crime has been successfully combated, that these stakeholders have worked together. He says that the purpose of the video is to promote that common bond and to provide a tool for local law enforcement providers in their efforts to stop metals theft.

Where existing resources are reorganized to provide a central response in a jurisdiction, however, metals theft can be more effectively deterred. a centralized approach allows for the pooling of information and a more strategic approach to monitoring criminal activity and making arrests. The Anne Arundel County Police Department is offered as a case study on how a reorganization of resources can help result in an effective response to this crime.   

Anne Arundel County Police Chief Tim Altomare expresses the obvious concern that metals theft impacts every city in the country, stating that his police department will continue to dedicate the resources required to stop the problem.

Through dramatization and interview, the video shows how recyclers and local police departments can work together.

In the video, when a scrap collector arrives at a scrap yard, he is asked if he has identification. When the scrapper states that he does not, he is told that he will not be paid for his scrap. The scene then shifts to comments from an Atlantic Recycling Group, an ISRI member recycler. An Atlantic representative discusses how recyclers work with police to report crime and their willingness to go to court to serve as witnesses and to identify suspects if necessary.

The existing networks of the IACP and NSA are being used for the distribution of the video to the law enforcement community nationwide. Social media is also being used to draw awareness to it.   

ISRI has put together a resource for law enforcement officers and prosecutors. It can be found at  ISRI also provides a metal theft alert website as an aid to law enforcement, scrap recyclers, and the public.