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Tighter restrictions help reducing metal thefts

CINCINNATI (Rich Jaffe) -- For the last few years, communities all over the country have been getting hammered by thieves stealing copper and many other kinds of metal that they turn around and sell for scrap.

The thieves have no limits, taking anything from manhole covers to cemetery urns for just a few bucks.  But there's good news, apparently things are getting better.

This time of year the last thing anyone needs, especially a family with a bunch of kids in the house, would be to have their air conditioner get torn apart by some copper thief.  For the last few years those things have been prime targets for the thieves who go after the copper tubing in the coils.  Thieves would do thousands of dollars in damage for just a few bucks worth of copper.

But thefts like that have suddenly cooled down.  The huge metal sorting and grinding machine at Garden Street Iron and Metal spits out 170 tons of chewed up metal every hour it runs.  Garden Street has seven scrap yards in both Florida and Ohio and has been at the forefront of industry reforms for the last few years.

When a person brings in something to sell they copy their driver's license, the license on your vehicle, pictures of the seller and material and even a thumb print.  While the big money is in commercial scrap, 450 small time sellers come in every day.  Owner Earl Weber said business is booming while restrictions on the industry in the last few years have been forcing a lot of the bad guys out.

He told Local 12, "All of its tightened up for one.  We're getting all the information from anybody bringing stuff in and I think most of the dealers that were buying stolen stuff are gone now."

Luther Mathews was one of those.  In 2010 the scrap dealer was arrested for not keeping records of what he was buying.  Now there's a statewide database through homeland security coming online in Ohio that will require dealers to record their purchases for easier checks by law enforcement. 

The biggest loser to the metal thieves has been Duke Energy and the public as the consumers.  Thieves frequently and dangerously target Duke's power or neutral lines for scrap.  Having made significant changes in substation security, Duke is seeing a dramatic decrease in thefts as well.

Sally Thelen from Duke explained, "It's win for us, win for consumers.  Any time we're able to prevent ridiculous things like this from happening, obviously our equipment is out there.  It's energized and any time we can see a decrease in that kind of activity it's a win win for us."

The new Ohio database was supposed to be online already but apparently the state's department of public safety is still working out the bugs.  Even with all the tighter restrictions, according to the insurance industry, Ohio still leads the state in metal theft reports.  And Cincinnati  reports more than any other city in the state.

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