Metal thieves are tearing apart Detroit at an astounding rate: They’re stealing manhole covers, sewer grates, church bells, copper roofs, catalytic converters, transformers, mausoleums from cemeteries and virtually anything else made of metal. They’re destroying schools, historic buildings, the lighting system and thousands of homes.
Why? Because many scrapyards are paying top dollar for stolen metal, no questions asked.
Over the past two years, Michigan lawmakers have proposed tougher rules and penalties on scrapyards, but politicians have buckled under the pressure of the powerful metal recycling industry. Once again Tuesday, industry representatives successfully lobbied lawmakers to shelve new legislation indefinitely.
“How much more policing do you want business to do for you?” state Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, asked law enforcement in Lansing.
Police and prosecutors testified this week that scrapyards operate with virtually no oversight, allowing thieves to drop off scrap metal for quick cash and little risk.
The new state House bills, which replaced similar legislation that had been shelved for more than a year, would require require scrap metal buyers to keep logs of the identity and address of sellers and snap photos of their items and vehicles. Cash transactions would be banned so that a paper trail is maintained.
The House committee may reconsider the bills in several months, members said Tuesday, but that has been the refrain for the past two years.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.