Friday morning, Anniston police Capt. Allen George said the investigations division of the department was working two reports of copper theft from air conditioners this week. Both cases involved rental homes near U.S. 431 and in both instances, copper had been stripped from outside air conditioners when the houses were unoccupied.
Such thefts still occur largely in residential areas, George said, but the two reports this week are way down from the 20 to 25 per week the department was filing this time last year when an investigation team was assigned to deal specifically with metal theft.
“It seems to be going away,” George said. “That’s a good sign.”
George said the reason for the decline is because thieves can’t do anything with the metal they steal. Legislation passed last year that went into effect in October put heavy requirements on documenting practices by scrap yards, and in some cases outright prohibited the types of metal they could buy from someone without a proper business license.
“The one big change to the law targeted air conditioner thefts in particular,” George said. “You have to have a licensed business to sell those parts to scrap yards.”
And it isn’t just the police who’ve noticed the changes. Shawn Movitz, the owner of Air Medic, an air conditioning supply and repair store in Jacksonville, said he noticed a steep decline in metal thefts about six months ago.
“The first time my guys went into the scrap yard they turned them right around and said they needed to see my license,” Movitz said. “If scrap yards comply with state laws, thefts will go down. Why steal something if you can’t sell it? What’s the point?”
Movitz said he deals with one scrap yard, and it has a copy of his business license on file, as well as copies of the driver’s licenses for his employees who do business at the facility.
Of course the owners of scrap yards might not think restrictions on types of material they can buy, and whom they can buy it from, are the most positive steps to take from a business standpoint. Local companies seemed hesitant to talk about how business was going on Friday.
An employee at Oxford Scrap Metal said business has taken a hit since the company can no longer take in copper wire, but declined to comment further to a reporter. Similarly, employees at Williams Scrap Metal and Red Hot Recycling declined to comment on business or the new laws when reached by phone on Friday.
George said businesses seem to be complying with the laws, however, and the proof is in the reduction of crime in the city.
“For a while it was getting so bad, it seemed like all we were dealing with,” George said. “It’s definitely nowhere near where it was now.”
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.