Scrapping for Dollars: Part 2

By: Sarah Platt Email
By: Sarah Platt Email

Scrap metal theft continues to be a growing problem for businesses and homeowners in our community. In an effort to curb the problem, last year, the city of South Bend passed a scrapping ordinance. So, how is the law affecting scrap dealers and scrappers (both legal and illegal)? And, what are police doing to prevent scrap metal thefts?

As we've been reporting, the demand for scrap metal continues to be high. Some analysts say China's building surge might be partly to blame. A lot of product is heading to that country, making demand for metal even higher here in the U.S. Some say restrictions on what scrap yards can buy and who they buy from is slowing theft, but many say it's still a major problem, with no easy solution.

From copper wiring, to old pipes, to pieces of aluminum, there's a lot of fast cash to be made from scrap metal; metals, that might first appear to be junk. “Scrapping is not an easy job, I'm trying to do it right,” says Chuck Szilagyi. Over the last few years, Szilagyi says scrapping has turned into a part time job. He says he finds most metal from his father's old collection of junk scrap, conveniently located on the family farm. “I got an aluminum engine block and a lot of cast aluminum,” says Szilagyi, pointing out what he’s brought in the back of his pickup truck. For this particular load, Szilagyi earned about $135.

Others tell us they find scrap metal from trash on their job sites or their homes. “I just grab what we throw away in the trash at work, throw it in the bed of the truck, whenever I get something built up, I come here, scrap it for a few bucks, get gas, cigarettes, whatever I need,” says Robert Smith.

To help curb metal theft, in April of 2006, the city of South Bend passed a scrapping ordinance. The law requires South Bend scrap dealers to get a copy of the customers ID. Customers must also fill out a form with their license number, type of vehicle, their thumbprint, and where they got their scrap metal. “I think it's slowing the problem down here, but there are other areas like Elkhart and LaPorte county and into Michigan, where there aren't ordinances like we have, so people will start going there instead of selling it here,” says Sergeant Jim Walsh, with the South Bend Police.

Under the ordinance, South Bend scrap yards are also required to have video surveillance and hold items for three days before turning over. “We've occasionally had to make trips outside of the area, because we've known things are gone and we try and determine who from our area may be taking things somewhere else,” says Walsh.

Scrap yard owner Randy Schlipp says the ordinance hasn't slowed his business, but it's had some grumbling about the paper work. “It’s a little more paper work we have to keep on file, but it's not too bad. We were kind of set up for something previous to that,” says Schlipp.

Local scrap yards are also able to communicate with one another, through an online theft alert. “We have a webpage on that we post stuff that is stolen, so if we spot any of that, we turn it in too,” says Schlipp. “It's just out of hand [theft] and there's not a proper solution for it that I know of.”

Since the scrapping ordinance went into effect in South Bend in April of 2006, city officials tell us one scrap yard has been cited for a violation. That yard was required to pay a fine for violating the scrapping ordinance.

This month, the state of Indiana also passed a law that makes it illegal for scrap dealers to buy kegs marked with the beer dealer’s name. Beer distributors have lost thousands of dollars in stolen kegs.

Meantime, South Bend investigators say increased patrols of neighborhoods have also helped catch some scrapping thieves. If you see something suspicious in your neighborhood, you're urged to call police. Authorities also say doing simple things like adding extra lighting and locks can make a big difference.

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