With scrap metal being stolen from behind businesses, from rail yards and outside of homes, county police and store owners are working together to catch the culprits.
Detective Dale Campbell with the Cass County Sheriff’s Department said thefts of scrap copper, aluminum, steel and other metals rise and fall depending on the market. To help combat the issue, local scrap metal businesses use security cameras and identification systems for their customers and will notify police about suspicious items.
Campbell said the thefts have been happening for several years, as individuals steal anything that can be cut up or melted down.
“Selling scrap has become a large criminal element,” Campbell said.
Kelly Habayeb, owner of Secondary Metals at 1834 18th St., said his business had seen a steady stream of stolen items.
“In the last three to four years, stolen property is just out of the world,” Habayeb said.
Campbell notes that the materials being stolen are often within easy reach.
“I think it’s just opportunity,” he said.
For businesses and individuals concerned about the theft of scrap material, Campbell suggested storing the metal in a safe place.
“If you’ve got scrap metal and you want to keep it, put it away,” he said.
With the market currently down, Habayeb said, miscellaneous scrap metal sells for $160 a ton, or 8 cents a pound. Copper sells at $2.35 to $2.75 a pound.
Campbell added that while the thefts are a problem, individuals can legally sell scrap metal from their residence or from a job site with the permission of the business owner.
“There are legitimate people out there doing scrap work,” Campbell said.
One of the main problems with the scrap thefts, Campbell said, is that the scrap winds up in a pile with other metals and is then melted down.
“The evidence is gone,” Campbell said.
Habayeb said Secondary Metals generally keeps scrap metal for about 45 days before shipping it to a mill to be melted down.
Investigators say they rely on the help of scrap metal yards to identify stolen items.
“The scrap yards do a real good job of collecting identification,” Campbell said.
When customers sell metal at Secondary Metals, the business takes picture identification, records a description of the vehicle and monitors the sellers’ actions on videotape, Habayeb said. For suspicious material, like new copper, Habayeb said, the business will ask for documentation on the origin or the material and proof that the individual has authorization to sell the metal.
When they believe a crime has occurred, staff members at Secondary Metals don’t hesitate to contact the police department.
“There are certain items that we know the average individual has no access to,” Habayeb said.
In turn, the business is typically contacted by law enforcement once or twice a week, Habayeb said.
Detective Bryan Hillis of the Logansport Police Department said the general trend for such thefts seemed to be headed in the right direction.
“In general, these crimes are down for us,” Hillis said.
• Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or firstname.lastname@example.org.