Commentary: Metal Thief Law Needed

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, August 1, 2008

So how bad is metal theft in California? Get this: In April, a house in San Bernardino County burned to the ground because firefighters couldn’t hook their hoses to a hydrant. Metal thieves had stolen the hydrant’s couplings. In May, thieves stole valves from a holding tank at a Richmond chemical plant, spilling 350 thousand gallons of toxic chemical into San Pablo Bay. Across the state, school districts are spending millions repairing air conditioning systems vandalized by copper thieves.

To crack down on metal thieves, Modesto Assemblyman Tom Berryhill has introduced a bill that would require scrap metal dealers to take pictures of scavengers, and the metal scavengers sell to them, and take their thumb prints.

The American Civil Liberties Union objects. It complains the thumbprint provision delegates police powers to private businesses. But pawnshop operators have been required to take thumbprints from people who sell them second-hand goods for years, for obvious reasons. The goods may be stolen.

Given the dangerous uptick in metal thefts, anyone who shows up with a truckload of scrap metal should be treated with extreme suspicion. Berryhill’s bill is a modest effort to deal with a serious problem. It deserves to become law.


Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.