New York's senior U.S. Senator says it's time to crack down on metal thefts. It’s a problem that is plaguing a number of cities across Upstate New York. YNN's Bill Carey says Senator Charles Schumer says Washington needs to step up to aid local law enforcement in battling the problem.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It has become as precious as gold or silver. Thieves are on the hunt for metal, which is drawing high prices at scrap metal yards.
In Syracuse, Senator Charles Schumer says the problem may be most severe in neighborhoods filled with vacant homes.
“Three quarters of the area's vacant homes, three quarters, have been targets during this crime wave. And if they're a target of metal theft during the crime wave, they're harder to sell. It's much harder to sell the home afterwards and they lose value,” Schumer said.
But it's not just vacant homes being targeted. And that has Schumer calling for new laws that would make it a federal crime to steal metal from critical infrastructure projects.
In recent months, authorities have reported a rash of such thefts. From copper wiring at electrical substations to manhole and catch basin covers to one brazen episode where thieves chopped away a 250 pound block of metal from a bridge. Syracuse schools have been targeted with thousands of dollars in thefts from campuses across the city.
“It's not just a local problem. It's a national problem. It's not just a problem of copper or a piece of equipment being stolen, but it's a public safety issue because the things that these thieves are taking are putting our citizens in harm's way,” Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler said.
Besides creating new federal crimes, Schumer also wants to slow the speed at which stolen metal can be sold. He wants new requirements for ID checks at scrap yards and a requirement that sales above $100 be made by check, instead of cash.
Schumer said, “They want quick cash. And so, if you put the limit to less than a hundred dollars, then it's not worth most of their while.”
Police have their doubts about being able to eliminate all metal thefts. But they say any new legal requirements and penalties will help to slow what's become a crime epidemic.
Beyond the public safety issues, there is a heavy cost for the growing number of metal larcenies. Copper thefts alone are said to cost the U.S. economy close to $1 billion a year.