Spinal Column: Legislation will cut down on scrap metal theft

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

Scrap metal theft has become a pervasive problem in Michigan. Catalytic converters, air conditioning components and even sewer grates are stripped and sold. Residents in target areas have taken to fencing in air conditioning units on roofs to deter potential criminals.

In 2008, Michigan changed the law to crack down on scrap metal thieves. Secondhand and junk dealers were required to obtain the identification and thumbprints of individuals selling scrap metal and to maintain records of sale. In addition, the state enacted criminal penalties and civil fines and established guidelines for monetary damages suffered.

Even with the increased regulation and penalties in 2008, scrap metal theft continues to be a challenge for law enforcement. According to a 2012 study from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Michigan ranked 10th in the nation for scrap metal theft insurance claims between 2009 and 2011.

A measure before the governor will further strengthen the law.

House Bill 4593 will require the following:

  • Payment by mail for all scrap metal purchases in excess of $25 by check, money order, electronic transfer, encrypted receipt or payment card. This applies to catalytic converters, air conditioners and copper wire.
  • For all scrap metal purchases, a digital photograph of the metal and the purchaser, along with the purchaser’s fingerprints, kept at the scrap yard where the purchase was made.
  • A state police database that will provide law enforcement with details of recent sales activity of scrap metal. Information directed to the reporting system will identify the product and quantity sold and the name and other identifying information. Penalties for not reporting information to the database will be $500 for a first offense, $1,000 for the second offense, and $5,000 for the third offense.

The purpose of this legislation is to create a paper trail.  A stipulation in the measure requires the State Police on October 1, 2016 to report to the Legislature on the effectiveness of the law. This will give lawmakers the ability to review how it’s working and make any necessary changes.

This column first appeared in the Spinal Column. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee. He serves the citizens of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.