Wichita In an effort to stop the increasing thefts of scrap metal and copper, the Kansas Legislature is considering a bill that would require scrap metal dealers to get identification from anyone selling the metals.
The bill, which would also require scrap metal dealers to record all purchases of copper and aluminum, is being pushed by the state's utility companies. But police, business and church leaders in Wichita also support the bill, after a rash of scrap metal thefts in that city.
More than $700,000 worth of metal was reported stolen in Wichita last year, police Capt. Darrell Haynes said.
This week, thieves even hit Wichita churches. On Sunday and Tuesday, the thieves caused an estimated $30,000 in damage when they destroyed air conditioners at Friendship Baptist Church and Pawnee Avenue Church of God.
The thieves break open outdoor air conditioner units to get to the copper inside. Police believe most of the copper and other scrap metal is sold by people trying to feed their methamphetamine addictions.
"For them, it's pure profit," Haynes said. "For a business that has to replace an outside air conditioning unit, it's incredibly expensive."
Jeff Westeman, technology manager at the Triumph Structures machine shop in Wichita, said businesses like his can have delivery delays when finished metal products are stolen, sometimes causing customers to take their business elsewhere.
"What we're talking about here is jobs," he said. "These are the types of high-paying manufacturing jobs that the city works really, really hard to attract."
Under the bill being considered by the House Energy and Utilities Committee, scrap dealers would have to record all purchases of copper and aluminum and obtain thumb prints and photocopies of driver's licenses of anyone selling metal.
Haynes and Westeman both said they would like the bill to cover other metals. But they also said taking a thumbprint from someone selling aluminum cans was probably excessive and the law should apply only if the sale goes over a certain dollar amount.
"Obviously, aluminum cans and old pieces of junk need to be removed from that kind of review," Westeman said. "We're not trying to hinder lawful trade. We're trying to stop unlawful trade that hinders our business."
Wichita already has an ordinance containing many of the bill's provisions, but Westeman said metal thieves can still sell their metal outside the city.
The scrap metal thefts have increased because prices have increased around the world, in part because of industrial growth in India and China.