Starting Thursday, scrap metal dealers must require official documentation of a fire from customers wanting to sell copper or other wire that appears to have been burned.
Metal recyclers also must keep records of purchases for three years following each sale, and fax a record of each sale to the Texas Department of Public Safety within seven days.It will be interesting to see if the new law will deter copper thieves. It's going to take a significant change in the conditions that created this situation in order to reduce the number of thefts. Looking at this crime problem through an economic lens, we need to change the cost/benefit ratio if we are going to be successful.
For the thief, there are a number of things that make up his "cost" of doing business. They are things like:
- The amount of effort required to physically obtain the materials
- The effort required to convert the stolen goods to something fungible such as cash or drugs
- The likelihood of getting caught
Now for the thief his benefits are pretty obvious that is, the items he gets in exchange for the stolen metals be it cash, drugs or something else he desires.
To affect the cost side of the equation, there are several things we can do. We can make him work harder to obtain the materials. In this example securing the air conditioning units with anti-theft cages would be one way. We could also make it harder for him to sell the stolen property by requiring the scrap metal dealers to take more measures to ensure they are not purchasing stolen metals. Lastly, we could increase the risk that he'll get caught by better monitoring of these transactions or increased efforts to investigate and solve these crimes.
Until the market for scrap metals change, there is probably not many things we can do to effect the benefit side of this equation unless the state was willing to enact price controls on the scrap metals market. The only other thing that might work would be to require the metals dealers to delay payment for a time which might allow time to determine if items are stolen prior to the crook getting payment.
It will be interesting to see if the new laws are going to change the prevalence of metal thefts. I don't see this problem going away any time soon.