Politics & Government

Sedgwick County appeals to Kansas House for action on scrap metal theft

Sedgwick County law enforcement officials on Monday called on the House to take action on scrap metal theft after a Senate committee decided last week to pass the issue onto the Kansas Judicial Council for review.

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on House Bill 2736, which would set up a database for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to help law enforcement agencies track down metal thieves.

The bill originally included stiffer sentences for scrap metal theft, but that would have cost the state $24.4 million to build extra bed space at the El Dorado Correctional Facility, along with an $8.4 million operating cost.

Matt Dwyer, Sedgwick County assistant district attorney, introduced an amendment to strike that portion of the bill, which helped sway the Senate Judiciary Committee against working a similar bill.

The bill would require scrap yards to take photographs of people selling scrap metal, and record available serial numbers on the metal, and upload this information into a central database.

Current law already requires scrap metal dealers to take down names and address of sellers, Dwyer said. The bill would also require businesses to note the full names of employees completing the sales transactions.

A Wichita city ordinance already requires this, but Capt. Scott Heimerman of the Wichita Police Department testified that scrap yards beyond the city limits do not have to follow the same regulations. Heimerman said universal regulations and a central database would help law enforcement agencies track thieves.

He said he has seen cases where people return home from vacation to find their basements flooded because their copper pipes have been stolen.

“When you see this year in and year out I feel it’s incumbent upon on all of us at some point to put some teeth in a good bill to help us address this issue,” Heimerman said.

Several Sedgwick County farmers testified at the hearing about the impact on their livelihoods. Kent Winter, who has a farm near Andale, said metal theft has been an epidemic in Sedgwick County.

“In my mind this situation is much like a sheep-eating coyote that keeps coming back time after time after time until I give him a reason not to come back. Doing nothing here is simply going to be asking for more of the same,” Winter said.

Raynard Brown, president of Advantage Metals Recycling, objected to the bill. He said the bill treats all sellers of scrap metal as criminals and called the required photos “mug shots.”

“There are tens and thousands of ordinary citizens in the state Kansas who recycle metal every day. And the presumption of criminal activity because of the sale of metal I think is the wrong thing to do,” said Brown, whose company is based in Kansas City, Mo., but has several facilities in Kansas.

Morgan Koon, the attorney for Wichita-based All Metal Recycling, testified in support of the bill, argued that the documentation and regulation helps protect scrap metal businesses operating honestly.