You know some folks would steal the crown off your tooth if they could do it without waking you up.
Small-town papers across the country are filled with bizarre anecdotes about scrap metal theft. Look online and you can find numerous stories of people stealing manhole covers, air conditioning units, fire hydrants, farm equipment, copper from roadside lamp posts, even urns and brass cemetery gates.
For instance, there was a recent National Public Radio piece about the theft of a marker in California memorializing Gary Meyer, a 19-year-old Vietnam soldier who died in 1966. Someone used a crowbar to pry loose the bronze plaque memorializing Meyer’s sacrifice.
It must have been a bit of a struggle, getting that thing loose. The thief probably had to take a breather at some point while he tried to dislodge that kid’s name from stone. In that quiet moment, how does someone fail to step outside of himself, see the absurdity, the sadness? How do you keep going with such an effort?
On top of that, who accepts the wild-eyed gravestone offering from the thief, then hands the fellow some money and melts the soldier’s name out of existence? The buyer is just as bad.
I don’t know of any local cases quite as sickening as that theft of a dead soldier’s plaque out west, but we’ve had some pretty significant copper thefts around here, too.
For instance, burglars hit two Georgia Power sub-stations in Madison County in April, even using a trac-hoe parked near a sub-station to pull down a fence and take down one of three 8,000 pound, 46,200 volt transformers, before removing approximately 2,000 pounds of copper wiring. Bobby Shoemaker, 29, Elbert County, and William Jason Elrod, 29, Colbert, were charged for the crimes. The initial estimate of theft and property damage was $522,500.
According to the Dept. of Energy, losses from copper theft are costing the U.S. economy about $1 billion a year in replacement costs and lost productivity.
The price of copper and other metals has risen dramatically in recent years, increasing the incentive for scrap metal theft. However, copper prices have fallen by approximately 25 percent over the past three months. And while economists can point out the downside of the current falling metal prices, law officers certainly welcome the decline in scrap metal value.
But metal price fluctuations certainly won’t put an end to the problem.
So what can be done?
Well, some states are trying to send a message that scrap metal transactions will be more closely monitored.
For instance, California passed legislation “to put an end to a pattern of quick cash for metal thieves” by requiring recyclers to hold payment for three days, check a photo ID and take a thumbprint of anyone selling scrap metals.
Yes, Georgia legislators will be overloaded come January. Think of all the budget woes they will face. Of course, a little tough talk about clamping down on scrap metal theft will be a welcome distraction, considering how nasty things will likely get under the Gold Dome.
Or, will they be too busy fighting to notice if someone gets the bright idea of prying the gold off that dome?
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.