In this dismal worldwide economy, there are bits of good news, albeit some of them are side effects of the bad. One is a drop in metal thefts, which corresponds directly to a sharp drop in metal prices.
For example, the price of recycled copper, which reached $4 a pound in 2007, has dropped to about $1 a pound, said Keith Highiet of Modesto Junk Co. That means there is less incentive for people to steal copper and sell it.
The Modesto Police Department says reports of metal thefts are down about 75 percent compared with a year ago. That’s good news, indeed, especially if we don’t see a corresponding increase in other types of thefts. No such trend is evident, according to a police spokesman.
Over the past two years, metal theft grew pervasive. Thieves caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to farmers’ irrigation pumps, public buildings, light poles, park benches. They went after almost anything that contained copper, brass, steel and even aluminum. In the most frustrating cases, thieves would destroy equipment worth thousands of dollars to get at copper or other metals worth only a fraction of that.
Some of the more responsible recyclers started asking questions of those selling metals, which was the first step toward reducing the problem, according to police. Then in 2007, Stanislaus County and Modesto adopted ordinances aimed at curbing the problem, and police say they started seeing declines. Under the laws, scrap metal recyclers had to require identification from people selling scrap metal and evidence of the authority to sell it. Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, carried legislation that made similar requirements the law statewide. It went into effect Dec. 1.
The problem has not gone away, however. There are still reports of people breaking into vacant, foreclosed houses and stealing fixtures, towel racks and even sinks.
Metal prices are likely to rebound once the economy improves in the United States and in China, where much of the recycled metals were shipped. We hope that Berryhill’s law — and strong enforcement of it — will prevent metal thefts from rising again, too.