Senator targets those who rob construction sites
Busting thieves at construction sites in Summit County could mean requiring the operators of salvage yards to keep track of who sells them scrap metal.
The number of burglaries is up as criminals take advantage of spikes in the price of copper and other materials, authorities say.
Park City builder Rory Murphy recalled the theft of a spool of copper wire last year at his Silver Star project that resulted in arrests.
"He admitted readily to taking it to go sell it to a salvage yard, and his friends were so high that the cops couldn’t even wake them up," Murphy said about the suspect who confessed to other burglaries.
But detectives in Summit County have so far come up empty in their attempts to solve a recent rash of thefts at construction sites valued in the "hundreds of thousands of dollars," Summit County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Sherm Farnsworth said.
"We’ve seen a dramatic increase at several areas around the county and we can’t identify whom the copper wire might have been taken from," Summit County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Sherm Farnsworth said. "They’re taking anything and everything they can get their hands on."
Thieves loot new projects in the county’s booming building market of copper and other metal, Farnsworth said, adding, "They are stealing the copper wire because the cost of copper is so high right now."
"What’s happening now is these guys, once they get it off the site, they’re basically operating with relative immunity," Murphy said. "There is no accountability and some tighter controls are probably in order."
The problem has state Sen. Jon Greiner, R-Ogden, sponsoring Senate Bill 44 that requires those who purchase the regulated metals to log the names of their customers and post signs in their establishments that warn thieves they’ll be identified for sales.
This way, detectives can track who sold the stolen goods, Greiner said.
S.B. 44 regulates dealers of "suspect metals" like copper, according to Greiner.
Materials regulated by the bill including brass, aluminum, bronze, lead, zinc and nickel, must be separated and held by dealers for at least three days, he said, adding that businesses that don’t comply could face charges.
New rules, which do not regulate scrap iron or aluminum beverage containers, would apply to scrap metal processors, those who deal secondary metals and recyclers, according to S.B. 44.
"It’s becoming a lucrative way for people to get money," Greiner said. "They’re stripping construction sites, homes, and taking the precious metals, copper, aluminum, out of the house and taking it down to a junk dealer."
Rolls of copper wire have been stolen from utility trucks, added Greiner, who is chief of the Ogden Police Department.
Along with recording names and addresses, those regulated by the bill would be required to photograph the seller and the items purchased, Greiner said.
"If we catch some people doing this we can go back and look at names and addresses for all these people and build a case against them," Greiner said. "At least it will cause the scrap people to start paying attention."
Signs posted in businesses that explain the new rules would deter some people from trying to sell stolen items, he added.
"If the stuff is stolen, it’d be nice to be able to try to track it through salvage yards, or whatever that take in the copper wire or copper tubing," said Phil Kirk, a Park City Police Department lieutenant. "I think that approach would be helpful to law enforcement in solving some of these types of cases."
Kirk compares the situation to a pawnshop owner that might be required to take fingerprints from customers.
"We’ve been known to have those types of thefts that we suspect they’re stealing it for the metal," Kirk said.
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