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Lawmaker targets scrap metal theft by proposing registration

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PHOENIX – For Pastor Bill Woods, having scrap metal thieves pillage his church’s air conditioning units created problems beyond the whopping repair bills. Case in point: the day he faced a sweltering congregation and a sermon that no longer seemed appropriate.

“I couldn’t preach on hell that day,” he said. “It was too hot.”

Over the course of a year, thieves made three raids on the air conditioning units at Desert Hope Wesleyan Church in Phoenix, making off with copper condenser coils. The repair bills totaled $67,000.

On Wednesday, Woods and others joined Rep. Tom Forese, R-Gilbert, at a news conference promoting legislation aimed at curbing metal theft.

“There is no area of our society that has not been seriously affected by metal theft,” Forese said.

HB 2262, authored by Forese, would require scrap metal dealers to register with the Arizona Department of Public Safety. DPS would have to develop an annual report including the numbers of registered scrap metal dealers, unregistered dealers and violations by registered dealers.

Dealers also would have to join a theft notification website that lets police departments send descriptions of stolen items to all recycling operations within 100 miles of thefts.

The House Commerce Committee, which Forese chairs, later endorsed the bill unanimously, forwarding it to the House floor by way of the Rules Committee.

Arizona has enacted other laws targeting metal theft over the past several years. Those include requiring scrap metal dealers to record identifying information and a fingerprint for any transaction of more than $25 and barring those younger than 16 from selling scrap metal.

Despite those changes, Forese said, gaps remain in addressing metal theft.

“(Existing laws) did not hit the nexus where the incentive and the criminal activity meet,” he said.

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio said Forese’s legislation would help address a problem that costs Phoenix residents and businesses close to $30 million each year.

“It’s going to have a major impact not just in the city of Phoenix but in the state of Arizona,” DiCiccio said.

Michael Pollack said his Mesa-based real estate investment business has lost more than $500,000 to scrap metal thieves. Pollack has added undercover guards and surveillance cameras to his buildings, but he said the state needs to do more for those who can’t afford extra security.

“These thieves aren’t discriminatory,” he said. “They steal from the rich, steal from the poor, steal from churches, steal from schools. They don’t care.”

Pollack said he has seen thefts level off since last year, when Gov. Jan Brewer signed another bill authored by Forese.

That law removed the term “scrap” from laws referring to the theft of metal, meaning authorities now consider the fair market value of stolen metal. That increased the consequences for scrap metal thieves, as metal has greater value than scrap metal and the value of stolen property influences penalties.

“We’ve got a very serious problem and we need to really make sure we give law enforcement the tools they need,” Pollack said.