We sympathize with people in the scrap-metal business who don't want to have to comply with any more regulations. It is difficult enough to keep a small business going without having to meet - and pay for - new requirements.
But something has to be done about the epidemic of scrap-metal thefts, and, unfortunately, the only effective means will be to discourage thieves where it hurts - the places where they get paid.
Last week, the state Assembly approved a bill (A3222) that would make it more difficult for thieves to cash in on stolen metal by improving the records that are kept of sales. The bill was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this month.
Scrap-metal dealers are already required to keep records for five years on deals that involve more than $50 or more than 100 pounds of metal. But apparently that is not sufficient to deter the vandals who destroy public and private property to strip it of metals.
As prices for recycled metals have increased, thieves have become more bold and more reckless. Some of the thefts that have occurred in South Jersey are shocking.
Copper wires have been taken from vacant homes and lampposts in parks. Air-conditioning units have been stolen from behind churches and from the roof of a shopping mall. NJ Transit trains have been delayed by the theft of wire from the Atlantic City Line. Elsewhere, cemeteries have been raided of metal flower urns and grave markers.
These crimes are far more destructive than they are profitable. The amount of cash thieves can get for stolen metal is only a fraction of what it costs to replace these items. Additionally, removing metal wires can create unsafe situations that could lead to electrocutions.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau says metal theft increased 81 percent from 2009 to 2011. The Philadelphia/southern New Jersey region ranks 10th among metropolitan areas for the crime.
The Assembly bill, sponsored by Angel Fuentes, D-Camden, would extend the five-year record-keeping requirement to all scrap-metal transactions, and those records would have to include a digital photo of the metal purchased. It would also require that people who bring scrap metal to a metal yard deliver it by motor vehicle, and that license plate numbers be recorded. Most payments for metals could only be made by nontransferable check, mailed to the seller. An exception would be made if the seller's photograph and fingerprints are recorded.
In response to concerns from the scrap-metal industry, legislators have amended the bill to drop a requirement that metal yards report their purchases to law enforcement at the end of each day.
Still, the new requirements of the bill will add work for the honest businessmen who run metal yards. That inconvenience is unavoidable, however, if we want to stop this destructive and dangerous crime wave.