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Assembly bills target metal thieves
missing bleachers
Recently thieves stole 10 20-foot long aluminum bleachers from the Little League park at Julien Elementary. The theft amount was estimated at $8,000. - photo by Journal file photo

 Two bills designed to combat metal theft by creating a statewide task force and implementing a stolen materials alert system are advancing toward becoming law in the Assembly.

The two bills are sponsored by Assembly members Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) and Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert) and address funding concerns that prevented other similar efforts from becoming law.

 AB 2313 would create a statewide Metal Theft Task Force that distributes funding grants to law enforcement and prosecutors for tackling metal theft crimes. A companion metal theft bill, AB 2312, would require scrap metal recycling centers to subscribe to a regional metal theft alert system. It would notify recyclers of stolen goods within 100 miles of their location, making it more difficult for thieves to find a purchaser for their stolen goods. Both bills passed through their policy committees with strong bipartisan support.

“Today was a great first step and it is encouraging to see the Assembly working together to take on problems like metal theft,” said Nestande of the bipartisan support AB 2313 received.

Rising market value for metals such as copper and aluminum have caused metal thefts to increase to a level that Gov. Jerry Brown described as “epidemic.” Metal thieves have been known to tear out the copper wires and pipes in vacant homes and those under construction. They have pried up manhole covers, taken the wiring from street lights, and stolen the metal mechanisms from sprinkler systems. Recently thieves stole 10 20-foot long aluminum bleachers from the Little League park at Julien Elementary. The theft amount was estimated at $8,000.

“Rural areas like ours in the San Joaquin Valley are some of the most vulnerable targets for metal theft,” Assemblymember Olsen said.  “Farmers and ranchers are already under the threat of drought and poor economic conditions — we must provide all the tools we can to make metal theft less attractive to criminals. Metal theft has wreaked havoc on businesses, schools, farmers, and government facilities – costing employers and taxpayers significant amounts of money.”

AB 2313 would create the statewide task force that would disperse grants to local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to fight the rising number of thefts. It provides for a funding source for the grants by allocating 1 percent of the payout individuals get from selling to scrap dealers. The funding source is an important attribute to the bill’s overall health because a similar bill, sponsored by Adam Grey (D-Merced) was vetoed by Brown because it lacked a funding source for the proposed enforcement efforts.

California does have some laws already on the books to deter metal thefts. In cases of payouts over $100, scrap dealers are required to hold payment for three days, check photo identification, and take a thumbprint. The law was modeled after an ordinance started in Stanislaus County in the mid 2000s.

Olsen and Nestande’s Metal Theft Task Force legislation has received strong support from statewide law enforcement associations including the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Sheriffs’ Association.

“Economic challenges as well as high rates of drug addiction in our county have made it incredibly difficult to combat metal theft and other property crimes at the local level,” said Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson.