Monday, August 15, 2011

It's Hot In Texas, Even More So If Your AC Is Stolen

The Houston Chronicle had a story this weekend on the rise in air conditioning unit thefts in Texas. Even though we're in the middle of a record heat wave, these units are not being stolen to keep crooks cool but instead are part of the white hot scrap metal market.

In the sleepy little burg where I work, we're seeing thieves do thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in damage in order to steal metal that they are going to get less than $100 for. The problem has become so widespread that the Texas legislature recently enacted new laws to combat this crime. One thing I thought interesting in the story was this bit:

The thefts in Houston have continued even though people selling metal to scrap yards must present identification. A new Texas law set to go into effect Sept. 1 will require all scrap yards in the state to do the same.

"The key will be law enforcement," McGinty said. "When I was in Austin, I told lawmakers, 'You can pass any law you want but if you don't have boots on the ground, it won't matter.'"

It will be interesting to see how this law will play out. In other crimes that were particularly problematic, such as methamphetamine labs, well crafted legislation can have an impact. This was really evident in states that added laws to require a doctor's prescription for pseudoephedrine based medications. These medications are normally an over the counter medication but are also used as a key ingredient in meth production. States that made prescriptions necessary to purchase pseudoephedrine saw a significant decrease in illicit meth labs.

Of course, it remains to be seen if Texas' first attempt at regulating the legal activities of the scrap metal trade in order to discourage the illegal activities the trade seems to encourage will work. In fact, it may take several attempts to come up with a workable solution to copper theft.

The Problem Oriented Policing Center has a POP Guide to tackling metal thefts. I always find the POP Guides useful to get me thinking outside the box on crime problems.

What has your agency found to be an effective strategy to combat metal thefts?

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