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Assembly Advances Fuentes, Wilson, Riley, Sumter & Wimberly Bill to Stem Rampant Scrap Metal Theft in NJ

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Angel Fuentes, Gilbert “Whip” Wilson, Celeste Riley, Shavonda Sumter and Benjie Wimberly to strengthen regulations at scrap metal businesses to stymie scrap metal thieves amid growing reports of scrap metal thefts throughout the state was approved by the Assembly on Thursday.

Current law requires scrap metal businesses to maintain records only on transactions in excess of one hundred pounds or $50 for at least five years. The bill (A-3222) would require scrap metal businesses to maintain records on every transaction, including a digital photographic record of the scrap metal received or purchased, for at least five years.

“I authored this legislation due to an ongoing problem in Camden that is nonetheless a problem throughout the state,” said Fuentes (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Our cities, already stretched thin financially due to the country’s dire economic circumstances, are often victims to vandals looking for their next dollar. Damage to public infrastructure often cannot be readily or cheaply fixed. Unfortunately, this problem also affects our private residents in both urban and suburban settings, whose property is at risk as well. This is an issue that cannot be ignored any longer.”

As metal prices climb, thieves have been known to remove copper wiring from street lamps, and strip abandoned properties or foreclosed homes of any available metal. Even cemeteries have been hit, with thieves targeting bronze and aluminum flag holders that decorate graves of deceased veterans. Scrap metal dealers could be charged with possession of stolen property for purchasing such materials.

Under the bill, scrap metal businesses will be required to limit payment for materials received to a non-transferable check, mailed to the seller’s provided address. All deliveries of scrap metal must be made in a motor vehicle, and that vehicle’s license plate must be included in the sales records.

“Times are tough, but that does not excuse this behavior,” said Wilson (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This is not a victimless crime. In some cases, scrap metal thieves are stealing items that may earn them a couple hundred dollars, but cost thousands to replace. Parks in Camden have gone dark because of thieves stealing copper wires used to light street lamps. It’s time to toughen restrictions to deter would be thieves from selling and profiting from stolen scrap metals.”

There have been countless media reports about scrap metal thefts throughout New Jersey.

In July, $20,000 worth of metal was stolen from rooftop air conditioning units at several stores in a shopping center in Deptford Township in Gloucester County. In Camden, copper wires used to light parks have been cut and stolen, leaving many of the city’s parks in the dark, according to media reports. Last year, three New Jersey women were accused in Philadelphia of trying to sell almost 400 grave markers and flower urns taken from several cemeteries. The items had reportedly been taken from the graves of veterans ranging from the Civil War to the Gulf War.

Thieves have also targeted local rail lines. Amtrak was hit in January by thieves who stole about 300 feet of wire at the intersection of the Northeast Corridor and the Atlantic City Line, delaying seven NJ Transit trains, according to a media report. NJT trains have also suffered delays because of metal thefts. Suspected wire thieves were arrested in February near NJT’s Plauderville station in Bergen County after allegedly breaking into a signal box and stealing copper wire. In addition to stranding trains, the thefts can endanger passengers. Cut wires can send rogue electric currents running through station hand rails, water pipes, or even the ground, according to a media report.

“These individuals are not only destroying private property and causing thousands of dollars in damages, but in some cases, they are putting themselves and the public at risk,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “Right now it seems it’s just too easy for thieves to sell stolen scrap metal to scrap metal yards without fear of repercussion. The additional regulations under this bill would make the process of selling scrap metal more thorough to help counter this rampant problem.”

“From drain sewers to flower urns to copper from power cables, it seems anything metal is up for grabs these days. It’s criminal and it’s affecting not just private businesses, but municipalities struggling financially. Current regulations are too lax considering how pervasive this problem has become,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “The provisions in this bill would help give law enforcement the proper tools to pursue these cases more effectively and discourage these thefts.”

“Many of these thefts are creating financial problems for already cash-strapped municipalities. In some parts of the state, entire neighborhood blocks are being blacked out by thieves stealing copper wiring. This undermines the quality of life, safety and financial stability of residents since at the end of the day, they may end up footing the bill to replace the items stolen or damaged by these type of thefts,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “It’s not fair, it’s dangerous and it must stop.”

The measure passed 48-21-7; and it now heads to the Senate for further consideration.