Crime & Courts

Wichita considers requiring ID for scrap metal sales

Scrap metal collectors used to be able to wheel a shopping cart full of copper wire and catalytic converters into recycling shops and walk away with a fistful of cash.

As the price of scrap metal rose a couple of years ago, theft became an almost daily problem, police say.

Now the Wichita City Council is discussing a new law that would require scrap metal sellers to provide photo identification or give a thumbprint before collecting cash for their scrap metal.

Sellers also would have to sign an affidavit that confirms where they got the scrap metal.

The proposal, discussed in an informal City Council workshop Tuesday, isn't as strict as some other cities' laws but is much tougher than Wichita's existing 1950s-era ordinance, Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said.

"There will still be metal thefts," Stolz said. "We're just trying to minimize them."

The law would also let police put holds on certain items, such as those with markings from places such as Westar Energy or the city of Wichita.

Council members voiced support for the measure, but they said they'll have to examine details of the ordinance before voting on it, perhaps in February.

Council member Paul Gray said he wants Wichita to share its law after it is approved to encourage other cities to limit theft.

"If we just make it difficult to sell the product here, they'll just take the product somewhere else," he said.

Stolz said he would share Wichita's law with other communities.

Metal theft has been a huge problem in Wichita and elsewhere.

In recent years, thieves have ripped brass valves from lawn sprinkler systems, including one that left a church's lawn flooded.

They've also torn apart vacant houses and city buildings, climbed utility poles to rip down wires and slid beneath cars to nab catalytic converters, including 11 from the Red Cross in 2008.

Stolz showed council members photos of moving vehicles filled with metal moldings and piles of wire ripped out of walls.

He also showed council members how some businesses are protecting their air conditioning units from theft with fence and barbed wire.

That's great for that business, he said. But the problem is the thieves tend to move on to another unit that isn't protected.