FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 9, 2012
SCHUMER: WITH SPIKE IN PRICE OF IRON, COPPER, AND
METALS, CROOKS ARE STEALING FROM SYRACUSE
& EVEN VETS’ GRAVES – LAUNCHES PLAN TO CRACK
DOWN ON THEFT
FROM CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE THAT ENDANGERS
Syracuse PD Reports 50%
Increase in Scrap Metal Thefts From
Schools & Bridges, Sewer Grates &
Even Flagpoles on Vets’
Graves, Then Selling for Fast Cash at
Metal Yards; Schumer Plan Would
Crackdown on Thieves & Provide
Syracuse SMELT Team New
Tools to Protect Residents,
Schumer Bill Would Require Metal
Sellers to Provide Proof of Ownership,
Limit Cash Payments from Recyclers for
Scrap Metal to $100,
Make it a Federal Offense to Steal
Metal from Critical Infrastructure &
Schumer: Time to Put Metal Thieves
Behind Ironclad Bars
Today, at Clary Middle School in Syracuse, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer joined local law enforcement, public safety officers, and Syracuse school board members to crackdown on the recent rash of scrap metal theft in the city that threatens critical infrastructure, local residents, and taxpayers. Due to the high price of iron, copper, and other metal in the market, the Syracuse Police Department has recently seen a 50 percent increase in the number of scrap metal burglaries and larcenies in the area, including thefts of copper wire from Clary Middle School, blocks of steel from the Bear Street Bridge, and a metal flagpole ornament from a Korean War veteran’s gravesite. Thieves then sell that metal for fast cash at metal yards.
Schumer’s proposal would attack this growing problem in many practical ways: 1.) require documentation that those selling metal to recyclers own the metal or are authorized to sell it; 2.) require recyclers to keep detailed records for purchases of metal; 3.) cap the amount at $100 in cash that recyclers can pay for scrap metal; 4.) create a specific federal crime of stealing metal from critical infrastructure, and more. Schumer, who cosponsors this legislation with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), highlighted that metal theft can cause serious danger to school children, commuters, first responders, and local residents, as these thieves can cause fires when utilizing blow torches to remove metal and can seriously compromise the integrity of public facilities. The Syracuse Police Department has created the Scrap Metal Larceny Enforcement Tactics (SMELT) Team, particularly focused on reducing these burglaries in the region, which demonstrates both the real danger and potential for lost revenue in the city. The Syracuse City Code Department also notes that over 75 percent of vacant homes have been victim to scrap metal theft.
“It is time to put thieves who steal scrap metal from Syracuse homes, schools, infrastructure and even vets’ graves behind ironclad bars,” said Schumer. “This practical plan will combat this rash of metal theft by requiring recyclers to keep detailed documentation of metal purchases, capping the amount of cash recyclers can pay for scrap metal, ensuring that those selling metal are authorized to do so, and by making metal theft a federal crime. The Syracuse Police Department has seen a 50 percent increase in metal theft over recent months, and this scourge has prompted me to take swift action and work with the Syracuse Police Department to make sure the only metal these criminals can get their hands on is in a locked jail cell. This proposal will safeguard Central New York families, schoolchildren, drivers and first responders who are endangered by the stripped infrastructure, fires, and financial hit as a result of these crimes.”
“I appreciate Senator Schumer’s efforts on this issue,” said Syracuse Mayor Stephanie A. Miner. “Through enacting tough federal legislation to address the problem of stolen metals, we are able to better safeguard our property and our communities. We are also able to better prevent and prosecute criminal acts such as the theft at Clary Middle School a few weeks ago."
“This legislation proposed by Senator Schumer is an important tool we can use to investigate and prosecute metal thefts,” said Syracuse Deputy Police Chief Joe Cecile. “Metal thefts result in expensive damage and require difficult police work. We thank lawmakers for any efforts they undertake to make our jobs easier. Metal thefts continued to be on the rise, often with very destructive consequences for the neighborhoods. In their criminal efforts to steal 100 dollars’ worth of metal, these thieves cause 1000 dollars’ worth of damage, which causes a downward spiral for many of these vandalized properties which never become reoccupied.”
Schumer’s Metal Theft Prevention Act is aimed at deterring thieves from procuring and selling stolen metal goods. As a baseline measure, it makes stealing metal from critical infrastructure a federal crime. The Act also includes stringent documentation requirements for sellers, and recordkeeping requirements for recyclers who buy scrap metal.
Schumer stood at Clary Middle School and was joined in his push to end the spree of metal thefts by Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler, Syracuse SMELT Team Leader Deputy Chief Joseph Cecile, City of Syracuse Department of Public Works Deputy Commissioner Tom Samone, and officials from the Syracuse Codes Department and Syracuse City school district. Schumer noted that schools have been recently targeted by metal theft. In the second week of July, thieves stole copper piping from Clary Middle School in Syracuse, causing thousands of dollars of damage to the school’s air-conditioning system in the process, an instance that could have also created a fire hazard. The nearby McCarthy School was also a victim of copper theft in May, and thieves stole $45,000 worth of metal from a construction site at Dr. Weeks Elementary School in June.
Schumer pointed to one particularly troubling case of metal theft that could have taken a deadly turn this year. The case involved an elderly Syracuse resident living on Spring Street. The home they were living next to was vacant, and a prime target for metal thieves. This elderly resident came home one day to the scent of natural gas throughout their home. National Grid, called to the scene, determined that thieves who had cut metal piping in the vacant home next-door actually ruptured the elderly resident’s gas line, unintentionally, during their effort to steal the gas line piping. National Grid told city officials this case could have easily ended in tragedy for the innocent Syracuse resident.
Schumer’s plan stipulates that for those who sell scrap metal, the documentation requirement will indicate whether they own and/or are authorized to sell their metal, and only applies to metal products that would likely be owned by government entities or companies, and not private citizens. For recyclers, the recordkeeping requirement would mandate that they keep basic records of all purchases, such as the date of the purchase, a description of the metal, the amount paid, and the name and address of the seller. In addition, the Schumer’s metal theft legislation states that recyclers may not pay over $100 in cash for metal. Above $100, scrap metal sellers will have to be paid by check, aside from established commercial transactions. The provisions of the bill can be enforced by both the U.S. Attorney General and state attorneys general. The U.S. Sentencing Commission is directed to review and make any necessary changes to ensure that the penalties laid out in the guidelines appropriately reflect the serious nature of metal theft.
Metal theft has become increasingly prevalent in the Syracuse area. Syracuse Police say scrap metal theft increased by 50 percent between October 2010 and October 2011, and recent events suggests it could continue to rise at an alarming pace:
•In one of the most recent disturbing incidents, a metal flagpole holder was stolen from the grave of Korean War veteran John Dopkowski on June 2nd. This was the tenth flagpole holder to be taken from Assumption Cemetery since late May as other cemeteries have reported similar instances.
•Also in June, thieves ransacked a Richmond Avenue rental property, taking two metal sinks, copper piping, metal duct pieces, a refrigerator, a stove, and metal window frames. The thieves even scaled the house’s walls to steal the windows' outer metal trim.
•Across town in Kirk Park, thieves stole the metal fencing surrounding a public football field in June. This incident cost the parks department thousands of dollars.
•In May, a $3,000, 260-pound steel piece of the Bear Street Bridge in Syracuse was discovered to have been stolen from taxpayers, and caused construction work on the bridge to be delayed by two weeks.
•Last December, thieves caused thousands of dollars of damage as they stole copper from a house being bought by a quadriplegic veteran recovering from surgery.
•Later in the same month, a spate of metal theft incidents was reported in LaFayette, south of Syracuse. These included the theft of stainless steel and aluminum piping from a machine shop, and the theft of steel and aluminum truck rims from a storage trailer.
•In October, thieves caused $10,000 damage as they made off with $800 in scrap metal from the Glenwood and Peat Street electric substations in Syracuse. In fact, a total of 24 electric substations in Onondaga County were targeted by copper thieves in 2011. In one of the most serious incidents, 175 pieces of equipment, worth $24,000, were stolen from a Solvay Electric Co. substation.
•Last September, two thieves drove away with an undisclosed haul of metal from a boatyard on Bennett Street in Brewerton.
•Between July and August of 2011, 90 sewer grates, each weighing 250 pounds, were stolen in Syracuse. And to close out 2011, the City of Syracuse reported a loss to taxpayers of over $20,000—all due to scrap metal theft of city DPW property.
•In December 2010, three men entered a barn in Syracuse, and drove off with several barrels of metal that were then sold for scrap.