DETROIT (WXYZ) - Michigan may soon have some new tools in its arsenal to fight the growing problem of metal theft.
State Representative Rashida Tlaib says she's introducing a new bill to tighten regulations on scrap yards, crack down on thieves and give more tools to the police.
Last year the 7 Action News Investigators went undercover to expose the epidemic of metal theft in our city.
We also caught brazen thieves stripping a house in broad daylight; others rolling up huge sections of chain link fence outside a shuttered Detroit Public School. We watched as the thieves carted off the fencing on the roof of an SUV.
All this was happening in the neighborhood of State Representative Rashida Talib, who told 7 Action News at the time that metal theft was destroying our city and she was determined to stop it.
Today, at the same school where 7 Action News caught those thieves stealing fencing, Representative Tlaib gathered with community leaders, fellow lawmakers, police and others for an announcement. She is introducing a bill to fight the scourge of metal theft.
“I can tell you that as we sat down across the aisle from the scrap metal industry it was a very frustrating process. It took almost twelve to fourteen months before we could come up to an agreement,” Tlaib said.
The legislation would toughen penalties for convicted metal thieves, give law enforcement stronger tools to fight theft, and ban cash transactions for certain metals like copper wire that are popular with thieves. It will also regulate all scrap metals, not just aluminum and copper, as in the past.
“We’re losing neighborhoods, one house at a time. (If) You go by empty homes, you’ll see the doors taken off. It’s gotten so bad that my seniors will call me and say ‘hey, these guys are taking windows out of these houses like they work for Wallside’,” said Tyrone Carter, president of United Citizens of Southwest Detroit.
Father Russ Kohler from Holy Trinity Church also attended Tlaib’s announcement. His church has been hit repeatedly by metal thieves.
“After the chalices and tabernacles and history are gone for ten bucks and re-sold to syndicates, somebody gets a ten dollar high off of my chalice,” Kohler said.
Tlaib says her bill has bi-partisan support, the backing of the governor, and she expects it to pass. And she’s enlisted the support of Councilman James Tate who plans to push for a companion city ordinance to crack down on metal thieves.
“We’re seeking to have the ability for the police department to forfeit their vehicles, which is extremely important” said Tate.
We were unable to get anyone from the scrap industry to comment on camera. They have been opposed to the no-cash transactions part of the bill. They prefer putting ATM's in scrap yards for payment that would take pictures of the people who sell them metal, so if it turns out to be stolen, police will have a picture of the thief.
Greg Brown, head of the Michigan Scrap Metal Dealers Association told 7 Action News that his industry was helpful in drafting the legislation and that the way to fight this problem is to have everyone working together to stop theft.
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