New Metal Recycling Regulations Hope To Catch Thieves

The Houston area is struggling with a rash of costly metal theft. Lawmakers, city officials and business owners urge the Harris County Commissioners Court to adopt tougher regulations when it comes to the sale of scrap metal.

State legislation that governs the sale of recycled metals was adopted by commissioners to help stem the theft of copper. It features the use of an online database system that includes a thumbprint and vehicle description, photos and other verifying documents.

Commissioners heard from legislators, law enforcement officials and homebuilders, like Larry Capasso.

“We’re a nonprofit builder, and we build homes for needy families, and we have no profit margin. We’ve experienced over the last two years, $47,000 dollars in cost that we incurred because of thefts of the copper and the entry to get to that copper. For instance, if they steal a little bit of copper cutting on the outside of the house, it ruins the AC unit. That’s $1500 dollars damage right there.”

Burglary & Theft Sgt Fred Persons with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department says the new regulations will make it harder to sell stolen metal.

“When the city started it three or four years ago, they saw a huge drop in their crime. We’re working with Brazoria County,  Montgomery County and all those other counties, trying to get them on board with what we’re doing, so we can push it further out and keep pushing it further out. Our MUD districts are getting hit and everything are getting hit and, we know where the crooks are, but we don’t know where they’re selling it. So if we have a database and they all have to be in compliance and be reported to the database, then we know where it’s going because they have to take pictures of what they’re selling. Even if they get somebody else to sell it, we’ll be able to identify it by the picture.”

Katy State Representative Bill Callegari says the theft results in so much damage.

“We’ve had about 160 thefts over the last 14 months, and every time there’s a theft, they’ll steal wire that’s worth maybe a few hundred dollars, but do thousands of dollars, tens of thousands of dollars of damage in the process. They do damage just to get to the facilities. They do damage sometimes in the facilities themselves, and of course, in the process of stealing, sometimes there’s a lot more that has to be replaced. It’s not just a matter of pushing the wire back in.”

Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle says thanks to representative Callegari and law enforcement officials, they are able to approve the new measure that makes it harder to fence stolen metal for scrap.

“We’ve got a broad based problem that has been growing. The City of Houston and other cities have the power to pass ordinances. The county, which if it were a city, would be the fifth largest city in the country, does not have powers to pass regulations, unless we are given specific authority to do so by the Texas Legislature.”

The new regulations take affect in January.