Across Minnesota, communities have been facing a rash of robberies. But these thieves aren’t your common thugs stealing TVs or computers — instead they’re going after high-priced metal from businesses, homes and even veterans’ graves, and selling it to scrap dealers to make a quick buck.
In Rochester, I met with a local business that has been robbed by metal thieves 12 times in just the past two years and suffered more than $150,000 in losses. During one of these robberies, thieves even stole a truck with the company logo on it, and then used that truck to rob other construction sites without raising suspicion.
In St. Paul, metal thieves stole $20,000 worth of copper pipes from the Phalen Ice Rink, causing the rink to temporarily close until local businesses offered to pitch in for repairs. And in Isanti County, in an act too callous to comprehend, criminals stole more than 200 brass stars from veterans’ graves over Memorial Day weekend.
This crime can also threaten public safety. Metal thieves have caused explosions in vacant buildings by stealing metal from gas lines and they’ve caused blackouts by stealing copper wiring from streetlights and electrical substations.
What’s more, the problem is getting worse. The worldwide price of copper has increased significantly. As a result, thieves are eager to steal copper and resell it to scrap metal dealers. In recent years, metal theft has jumped nationally by more than 80 percent, with an estimated cost of up to $900 million each year for copper wire theft. It’s is clear we need to take action.
This is a national problem that will require a national solution with federal, state, and local officials working together. While some states like Minnesota have tougher metal theft laws, that doesn’t stop thieves from stealing metal from one state and selling it in other states.
That is why I introduced legislation with Republican Senators Lindsay Graham from South Carolina and John Hoeven of North Dakota to crack down on metal thieves nationwide and make it harder for them to sell their stolen metal.
Our bill makes it a federal crime to steal metal from critical infrastructure and ensures we have tough penalties for those who break the law. The bill also contains a “Do Not Buy” provision which bans scrap metal recyclers from buying certain items unless the sellers establish with written documentation that they are authorized to sell the scrap metal in question.
Under our legislation, scrap metal dealers will be required to keep detailed records of metal purchases for two years and make them available to law enforcement agencies. Finally, the bill would require that purchases of scrap metal over $100 be done by check instead of cash to help law enforcement track down thieves.
In order to stop these thieves from wreaking havoc on families’ homes, businesses’ bottom lines, and even veterans’ graves, we need to take swift action to crack down and force these criminals to pay a heavy price when caught. I will continue to work with law enforcement, local communities, and my colleagues in the Senate to get this done.