DETROIT (WWJ) – The state of Michigan is on a top 10 list that holds no bragging rights.
Michigan ranks 10th in scrap metal theft in the nation and community leaders says it’s time to pass laws that will cut off the quick cash for those who steal metal and sell it to disreputable scrap yards.
WWJ Newsradio 950’s Marie Osborne takes a closer look in her series “Scrapped to Death.”
Legislation pending in Lansing [HOUSE BILL 4593] would require anyone selling an air conditioner, catalytic converter or copper wiring to wait three days for payment.
“In any year we see at least five thousand cases of theft of copper of air conditioning units and the like,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “They are tearing apart the houses in our neighborhoods.”
Duggan has made it his mission to make the state legislature pass tougher standards for the scrap metal industry. In addition to the three-day waiting period to get paid and Duggan wants a photo taken of those selling scrap metal.
“Our police, a month ago, went in and did a surprise inspection, they found a bin of the stolen catalytic converters in the scrap yard, right under the theft notice sign posted on the wall,” Duggan said.
For Pastor Keith Hill of Kindred Ministries a law reigning in the sale of scrap metals can’t come soon enough.
In 2013, Hill bought a former school in the Brightmoor neighborhood. His plan was to turn the school into a place of worship and a job training center.
“At the time that we saw it – it was beautiful – it had not been damaged whatsoever.”
Before the ink dried on the lease to buy agreement for the building – the scrapping began.
“They took transformers out, all the sprinkler heads, they just busted everything, all the bathrooms. If they didn’t take things out they broke it up.”
The building has sustained one million dollars in damage.
Hill says the proposed legislation is vital toward the effort to stop scrapping.
“So you have to put some teeth in there some kind of way, we have to do something, doing nothing is not an option.”
State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, (D-Detroit) said the quick cash is the root of the problem.
“There is such an attraction to legal scrapping because they get instant cash right away. Something like a catalytic converter you can come in there and get a couple hundred dollars for it,” Tlaib said.
“My eight-year-old knows what a manhole cover looks like,” she said. “How do you take in some of these water heaters that are brand new?”
But State Senator Mike Kowall doesn’t agree and his committee has taken out the three-day waiting period.
“… it’s been tried in other states and what they’ve decided to do is create a database,” he said.
At Dix Scrap Yard in southwest Detroit, owner John Dingell, III says he often turns people away when he thinks they are selling stolen goods. But he admits it’s not always easy to spot.
“Scrap metal is a fungible commodity, it can be cut up, smashed, burned and otherwise concealed,” he said.
Dingell says he doesn’t want to see more laws governing the sale of scrap metal and says that he has also been a victim of scraping.
“Where is all the scrap metal? At a scrap metal dealer – we’ve had many more theft problems than the average business – with scrap metal thefts.”
Andy Arena director of the Detroit Crime Commission says Ohio is the state here in question and Kowall is mistaken.
“And for those that say it didn’t work in Ohio – that’s not true. We talked to law enforcement in Ohio and they said we go better together.”
Arena says the legislator’s sluggish response means one thing to him – that the scrap metal business is lucrative. “I think that they’ve certainly inserted influence in the legislation – they are fighting hard to make sure that their ability to deal in stolen property is not changed.”
“So when a guy comes in day after day after day with catalytic converters and he doesn’t own a muffler shop – do you ever think – where does this stuff come from? And he said, ‘Nope. Not my problem.’ They want to be able to continue do the wink and a nod – have the plausible deniability to be able to deal in stolen property.”
“You go into any commercial corridor and I guarantee you ninety percent of the businesses and churches have been scrapped at some point,” said Jeff Adams of Brightmoor Alliance.
“For somebody to wait three days, that is not too much to ask,” said Adams.