Lawmakers Looking At Bills Aimed At Slowing Metal Thieves

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -- Prosecutors say an overnight copper theft in Wichita is further proof serious action is necessary to combat a common Kansas crime.

Legislation intended to make things tougher for metal thieves is in front of the Kansas House of Representatives and the Kansas Senate.

Sedgwick County Attorney Marc Bennett has been pushing for lawmakers to do something to fight metal theft. He thinks the legislation has a chance to slow criminals down.

"I have yet to find a jurisdiction that has been able to avoid the issue of metal theft," Bennett said.

Combating that issue, he said, is tough for law enforcement. Bennett said constant watch over everything containing valuable metal is not feasible and scrappers can only do so much to make sure they are not buying metal from thieves.

"You've got this confluence of easily accessible material, which is also easily sold to legitimate business," Bennett said.

Metal theft -- especially copper theft - occurs often.

Early Tuesday morning, Wichita Police arrested a 53-year-old man after security cameras caught someone stealing copper wire from a Westar Energy yard east of downtown. Police Capt. Doug Nolte said police were alerted to the theft about 3 a.m.

"Westar Energy was calling to let us know that they had some video that they were looking at that involved the larceny of 75 pounds of copper wire," he said.

Officers found the man who was arrested nearby and were able to connect him to the alleged theft, Nolte said.

Bennett believes bills being considered in Topeka could make metal thefts less common. He said the main thrust of the legislation is to provide officers more tools as they investigate metal theft cases by having metal recyclers keep track of their transactions.

"They should take your ID, get a photocopy of it, take a photo of the person who is selling it so someone can't claim later, 'That wasn't me. Someone stole my ID,'" Bennett explained. "Well, we've got a picture of you."

The legislation, Bennett said, was crafted with the input of several stakeholders, including law enforcement, farmers, utility companies and metal scrapping businesses.

"I'm not going to say they were happy about it or want more regulation, but they at least agreed that, if everybody was playing on the same sheet of music from Goodland to Pittsburg from Kansas City to Liberal -- all across the state -- it would even the playing field," he said.

Posted by Greg Palmer