Governor signs law to establish state database of scrap metal sales

Scrap metal is dropped into a shredder at Allmetal Recycling.
Scrap metal is dropped into a shredder at Allmetal Recycling. The Wichita Eagle

TOPEKA — A bill that would establish a statewide database of scrap metal sales in an attempt to curb thefts has been signed into law by the governor.

HB 2048, which Gov. Sam Brownback signed Friday, requires the attorney general’s office to set up and maintain the database.

The bill was pushed by Sedgwick County DA Marc Bennett, who said the database will offer law enforcement an effective tool to analyze trends and catch thieves.

For example, he said, last year thieves stole about $100,000 in scrap metal in Wichita on two separate occasions. The database would enable law enforcement officers to identify whether the same person sold metal at multiple scrap yards in multiple counties and pursue that as a lead after a robbery, he said.

“Who are the big buyers? Who are the big sellers? Is this legitimate what’s going on?” Bennett said. “Or can we track some of these people who are habitually selling scrap metal across different yards around one jurisdiction to the next. Because it’s very hard to just go into a yard and find one length of scrap metal and say, aha, here’s the piece of copper that was stolen.”

The database will be paid for through penalties for theft and registration fees for scrap metal dealers.

The legislation will also bring uniformity to restrictions on the selling of scrap metal across the state. Bennett said ordinances differed in Wichita from the rest of Sedgwick County and the rest of the state, making it difficult to enforce the law.

The legislation makes scrap metal theft a Level 6 nonperson felony if the damage exceeds $5,000; that carries presumptive probation, Bennett said. A second offense would mean presumptive imprisonment.

“We’re not expecting people suddenly lining up filling the prisons. The goal here is to try to identify people doing this, shut them down and put a stop to this crime,” he said.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.