State Struggles To Prevent Metal Thefts

Jun 19, 2013

There have been two major cases of metal theft this week. Yesterday federal prosecutors charged two men with allegedly stealing more than seven thousand feet of copper wire at SeaTac Airport.  That followed an earlier case where thieves made off with more than four miles of copper wire from Sound Transit.


When news of metal thefts surface, it tends to cast the scrap metal industry in a negative light. Ryan Glant wants to make clear that the majority of metal that gets recycled comes from legitimate sources. “They’re people working on their houses, they’re working on construction, they’re electricians, they’re plumbers,” he said. “The scrap metals come from everywhere.”

Glant is general manager of Pacific Iron and Metal in Seattle.  He said metal theft is a big problem—and not just for his industry. It also affects utilities, law enforcement and public agencies. They've all been working with lawmakers to change state law to prevent metal thefts.  

In 2007 the Washington state legislature changed rules that regulate scrap metal companies’ transactions and record-keeping. But there’s been no money for enforcement. Last year the legislature increased the penalties for metal thefts and this year, the governor signed a new law to strengthen previous regulations.

For example, scrap metal companies now must be licensed. And it’s not going to be as simple as filling out an application. “You would have to show you are complying with the elements of the law that were existing in 2007 with some tweaks in the new law,” Glant said. “That’s record-keeping, keeping up with environmental compliance, it’s got a whole boatload requirements in order to be licensed.”

The law also creates a grant program to help rural communities that have been targets of metal thieves and a statewide electronic database for the industry to screen potential customers who may have certain prior convictions.  

The law takes effect in late July. But some of the features require state funding. The legislature is on its second special session to finalize a budget. And there’s no indication whether metal thefts or property crime is a priority.