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

(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 curb scrap metal thefts received final legislative approval Monday and now heads to the governor’s desk.

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) requires scrap metal businesses to maintain records on all transactions for at least 18 months, including, but not limited to the license plate of the motor vehicle used to deliver the scrap metal, and a digital photographic record of the scrap metal received or purchased.

“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.

“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.”

“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 bill also requires scrap metal businesses to electronically submit records kept pursuant to law or regulation on the purchase or receipt of scrap metal using an electronic reporting system.

Under the bill, the Superintendent of State Police must establish or arrange for a system for the electronic reporting of information pertaining to the receipt or purchase of scrap metal. All records submitted by scrap metal businesses and maintained by the Division of State Police are confidential except as otherwise provided by law. The records may be shared with federal or state law enforcement agencies as deemed appropriate by the superintendent, or with any state regulatory agency with jurisdiction over persons engaged in a business in which reportable transactions are conducted.

Under the bill, the superintendent may charge scrap metal businesses a reasonable fee for the use of the electronic reporting system and training for the system. Operators who fail to electronically submit transaction information may be liable for a penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation.

The bill was approved 47-23-8 by the Assembly and 37-1 by the Senate last month.