Precious metals: Regulations help stop metal theft

Police have seen a decline in nonferrous metal theft since safeguards were passed into law, but thefts of steel, iron on the rise
Mike Desavedo of White City Metals takes a photo of scrap metal a customer hoped to sell Wednesday. Police have seen a decline in non-ferrous metal theft since safeguards were passed into law in 2010, but thefts of steel and iron are on the rise.

Metal theft remains troublesome but is on the decline in Jackson County, thanks to 2010 state regulations, officials say.

Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said police have seen fewer pipes ripped from homes under construction and fewer commercial air-conditioner units stripped of their copper wires since Senate Bill 570 became law.

The law requires anyone transporting metal to have a certificate detailing where the metal was obtained or risk a fine of up to $1,250 or 30 days in jail. Scrap-metal businesses are required to cooperate with law enforcement and to separate, tag and hold property they suspect was lost or stolen.

"It's been fabulous for us," Budreau said. "The calls still happen, but not nearly as much."

He said that right before the law was enacted, someone actually stole the bleachers from a local high school.

"I remember when that call came in and thinking, 'You've got to be kidding me,' " Budreau said.

Lonny Rosencrans, sales and purchasing agent for White City Metals, said gone are the days when someone could walk into a junk yard with a handful of wire and leave with $50. The 2010 statute requires a three-day hold on any sale of nonferrous metals such as copper, stainless steel, aluminum and brass. On the fourth day, Rosencrans said his company, and others like it, still do not hand over cash. They are required to mail a check to an address provided by the seller, he said.

"This (delay) gives the victim time to notice something is missing, contact police and get a report made," Rosencrans said.

White City Metals also takes photos of the items being sold and the seller, and scans the seller's driver's license, he said.

"We keep a daily file," Rosencrans said. "Then, if police come in with a report, it's really easy to flip through the file."

About 500 CenturyLink customers in Ruch lost phone and Internet services on March 20, apparently because of copper thieves, according to a statement from the company.

The copper was stolen from an aerial cable on the electrical poles, and CenturyLink worked to get service restored by the next day.

Prices for metals such as steel, aluminum, cast iron, copper and brass have skyrocketed. In the past decade, the price of copper has jumped from 70 cents to between $2.30 to $2.80 a pound, Rosencrans said.

Steel, which used to go for $50 to $75 a ton, now goes for between $150 and $215 a ton, he added.

"It used to be copper wire and pipe. Now it's batteries and equipment out of vehicles," Rosencrans said, adding thieves are targeting car parts, engine blocks, old trailer parts, mobile homes and metal roofing.

The flip side to the downturn in nonferrous metal thefts has been an uptick in thefts of steel and iron, which are not protected under the statute, officials said.


The Jackson County Sheriff's Department reported someone stole three Kenworth T800 radiators from an Eagle Point resident on March 21. The radiators were valued at $7,000, according to the sheriff's press release.

Gary Leaming, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said vandals have perpetrated a rash of thefts in Josephine County and other outlying areas.

"It's really been a problem," Leaming said.

A 500-foot length of guard rail was stolen from a frontage road in Sunny Valley in the past month, he said.

"They just came and yanked it out and hauled it off," Leaming said, adding the cost of the rail is estimated at $50,000.

Near Hugo, a portable message sign was recently stolen, and later discovered trashed up a country road.

"All the components had been stolen," Leaming said, adding ODOT crew members also have had their own personal tools and other equipment stolen.

Tom Gauntt, spokesman for Pacific Power, said brazen thieves in the Crescent City area stole a third of a mile of wire along a rural road outside Smith River. Luckily, the outage affected only one pump, but it was part of more than $100,000 in wire thefts committed against Pacific Power and its customers in Del Norte County since late 2011, Gauntt said.

Gauntt said thieves have targeted grounding wire, which puts crews at risk as they go about their work on the local power grid.

It also puts the thieves themselves in mortal danger as they perform these criminal acts, he said.

Pacific Power is marking its wire for later identification. This tactic helps link suspects to the stolen wire when they try to sell it, Gauntt said.

Pacific Power crews use company-marked vehicles, wear company gear and surround any work vehicles with orange safety cones. Anyone working on power lines or facilities and not clearly identified as a Pacific Power crew should be considered suspicious.

If residents see any suspicious activity around power poles they should dial 911, he said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.



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