FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown
We need to crack-down on metal thieves
By State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown
On February 8, the House unanimously passed H. B. 2032, which would update the law for the theft of metals used in the communications and electrical industries, or which is valuable as a recycled metal. The bill is awaiting action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This bill would update the crime levels based on the value of the material which is stolen, which ranges from a class three misdemeanor for thefts valued at $50 or less, up to a third-degree felony for thefts valued at over $1,000
While this is a good start, we need to do much more to combat this growing menace.
My Philadelphia County colleague, Rep. Babette Josephs introduced an amendment which also would have included metals used by railroads and mass transit commuter rail systems in addition to the communications and electrical industries. This would have given police more authority in the theft of rail metal and cabling. However, her amendment was defeated by House Republicans.
An Amtrak rail line in Chester County was the victim of such a crime this past weekend. A thief cut signal lines in an attempt to remove the copper wire. Fortunately, an Amtrak repair technician observed this action, which led to the arrest of a suspect. However, imagine what could happen if a rail signal light were out of order due to this kind of thievery. The risk of a rail accident would rise dramatically.
Many Philadelphia communities are also suffering due to scrap metal thieves.
It is too easy for professional criminals to break into an abandoned or otherwise empty home, rip up the walls, floors and ceilings, and remove all the copper pipes and wires before the break-in is even discovered.
Since the goal is the quick removal of the valuable metals, what is left behind is often not easily repairable. I have seen damage in my neighborhood in the $10,000 - $20,000 range. That kind of damage is not easily repairable for low or fixed-income city residents, leaving the homeowner or resident stuck with a huge repair bill or else no water or electricity, or even leading to homelessness if the unit is condemned.
I would like to see the damages caused by the removal of the recyclable material be considered as part of the numeric value of the crime. A $200 theft of copper does not sound like a big deal, but if you figure in the $10,000 in damages to walls and ceilings, you start to see the real scope of the crime.
I also will be meeting with the local police to discuss the blatant thieves who operate in the city in broad daylight, even pushing their booty through the community in stolen shopping carts. Nobody pays attention to them. As residents, we also need to take responsibility and watch out for our friends and neighbors and put an end to this regular occurrence.