New state copper law puts dent in crime and business

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - About two months after the state's new copper law began, law enforcement and scrap metal businesses say things have changed. The law is aimed at stopping criminals from stealing copper from AC units and catalytic converters to sell for cash. Authorities say the law has put a dent in copper theft crimes, and businesses say a dent in their business.

At Charleston Steel and Metal the number of copper buy backs has dropped in the past two months. Vice President Barry Wolff says it's partly because of a recent 33% decline in metal prices, but also the state's new anti-copper theft law.

Instead of paying quick cash, he can only issue checks to people recycling copper. "Business is down a little bit. I think a lot of it is market related. I think a lot of it may be that people aren't going through the hassle of doing the permit in some cases," Wolff said.

The law also requires people who want to recycle copper at a scrap yard for money to come their local sheriff's office, and apply for a permit. Detective David Owen says it is an easy and free permit process that lasts up to a year and requires: a drivers license, vehicle registration, identity verification, and a warrants check

Det. Owen says copper theft incidents have declined by about half since the requirements were put in place. The sheriff's office has responded 23 times to copper thefts in the past two months.

"There has been a decline in copper theft reports, and one thing it has done for us is when we make an arrest there are stiffer penalties," Det. Owen said.

Metal recyclers say at this point the law isn't perfect, and some minor changes should be made. But if it's cutting down on crime, they are happy to obey the law.

"I've written checks for as little as 64 cents which is a little bit ridiculous. It's what the legislators wanted and it's what they got. It's not perfect, but if it's putting a dent in it, I'm all for it," Wolff said.

Wolff also represents the state Recyclers Association. He says a change to the law they'd like to see is allowing legitimate groups, like homeowners associations or government agencies to continue to recycle without having to hassle with permits.

Deputies say more than 2700 copper recycling permits have been issued in Charleston County. They say through the process they've arrested up to 100 suspects with outstanding warrants for various crimes, but despite the arrests those people are still issued their permit to recycle copper.

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