Wednesday’s Copper Heist—Delaying Tens of Thousands of Passengers—Was Just One Of Many This Year Across Transit Systems in NYC; Nearly 100 Since 2013; October Copper Heist Even Caused LIRR Delays In Mineola; Thieves Loot MTA, LIRR, Amtrak & NJT Lines Then Sell Scrap For Fast Cash at Metal Yards

Schumer Plan Would Require Metal Sellers to Provide Proof of Ownership, Require Scrap Dealers To Pay By Check, Not Cash, Make it a Federal Offense to Steal Metal from Critical Infrastructure & Protect New Yorkers From Delays Or Possible Disasters

Schumer: This Plan Would Put Metal Thieves Behind Ironclad Bars

May 31, 2015-- In light of the recent copper theft along New York City’s A and C subway lines, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today pushed legislation that would crackdown on the rash of scrap metal theft throughout New York State that threatens private property, public transit, local residents, and taxpayers. Due to the high price of iron, copper, and other metal, New York City has seen a significant number of scrap metal burglaries and larcenies in the area, including multiple cases involving MTA rail lines within the past few years. The problem has become so severe that an FBI report called metal theft "a threat to public safety and to U.S. critical infrastructure.”

Specifically, earlier this week, approximately 500 feet of copper cable along the A and C line had been stolen from 12 spots along the tracks; signal equipment and track components were also damaged.  The copper heist delayed tens of thousands of passengers commuting to work in the morning as service was suspended entirely between Rockaway Boulevard and Broad Channel station, and disruptions occurred along the entire length of the A and C lines. Schumer noted that this is not the first time that copper theft along a rail line has led to delays. In October 2014, a Hicksville man was arrested for stealing copper cable along the LIRR on eight different occasions. In one instance the Hicksville man’s theft led to a small track fire that damaged some rail which in turn caused delays at the Mineola Station in Nassau County. In 2013, over 15 MTA employees working for the LIRR were arrested for stealing copper wire from a rail yard. Overall, the employees netted over $250,000. Schumer explained that not only do these thefts cause major delays, they can be dangerous. The MTA has said that thefts of copper along LIRR right of ways can be risky due to the high-voltage. In December, approximately 40 Metro-North trains were delayed after signal cables were vandalized for copper at the Williams Bridge Station in Norwood. And Amtrak reports that despite their best efforts to only coat cables in copper—rendering them relatively worthless—metal theft still costs the rail line in upwards of $100,000 a year. Combined, these mass transit thefts can translate into millions in added costs for transit authorities. These costs are often recouped by raising fares on the law-abiding, traveling public. Schumer’s plan would aim to stop this trend.  

Schumer's proposal would attack this 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 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.

"It is time to put thieves who steal scrap metal from critical mass transit infrastructure, as well as homes and businesses, behind ironclad bars," said Senator Schumer. "Every ounce of copper or metal stolen from New York’s critical infrastructure could cause the next big commuter delay, a subway line suspension or even a disaster. That’s why this plan must be enacted—because it takes the cold-hard-cash incentive out of the metal theft equation and would deter metal thieves before they steal. This legislation is a practical plan that will combat the rash of metal theft occurring here in New York City 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.”

Schumer continued, “With an increasing number metal thefts over the past few years, particularly along rail lines that can in turn lead to mass transit delays, the time is now to give local law enforcement the tools to find these thieves and put them behind bars.  This proposal will safeguard New York families, schoolchildren, straphangers, business owners and first responders who are endangered by the stripped infrastructure, fires, and financial losses that occur as a result of these crimes."

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, money order, or online, aside from established commercial transactions.

While some responsible recyclers already employ similar restrictions, all it takes is one or two bad actors in a region to give the thieves enough incentive to steal. 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.

According to the both NYPD Transit & the MTA:

  • In 2015, there have so far been approximately 12 incidents of copper theft along the subway  
  • In 2014, there were approximately 27 incidents of copper theft on the LIRR.
  • In 2013, there were 56 incidents of copper theft on the LIRR.




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