Columbiana Council discusses scrap yards

COLUMBIANA – The recent police investigation that led to the capture of Matthew Stouffer sparked a council discussion Tuesday about scrap yard regulations.

City police arrested Stouffer for allegedly stealing more than $20,000 worth of copper and aluminum distribution wire from the city’s electric department.

Stouffer was caught after police learned he allegedly had taken the stolen wire to a Youngstown scrap yard.

Council members questioned how the stolen items – especially such a large amount – ended up in the scrap yard and wondered if anything more could be done to prevent it from happening in the future.

The recent scrap metal theft is not the first to occur locally, although it may be the largest on record over the last year in Columbiana.

Other smaller scrap thefts have been reported sporadically by city residents during that time.

Police Chief Tim Gladis said a new law that took effect Jan. 1 is more strict on scrap yard regulations and has “a lot more teeth.”

While previous laws set up the requirement that scrap yards not accept materials without a photo identification of the buyer, Senate Bill 193 created a mandatory online registry for dealers in Ohio.

Gladis said the law also prohibits scrap yards from purchasing materials without first getting the sellers’ license plate numbers.

“The state and attorney general are paying very close attention to this,” he said.

Ohio was only recently ranked first in the nation with regards to reported scrap thefts, he noted.

The May 2 edition of the Columbus Dispatch reported Ohio is No. 1 in the country for insurance claims stemming from metal thefts.

According to that article, businesses and homeowners filed 3,228 claims between 2010 and 2012. The thefts are mostly copper taken from homes and businesses.

Gladis said the new law also advises scrap yards to be on the lookout for items like manhole covers – things sellers wouldn’t normally come across in their everyday lives.

“At one scrap yard there is a do not buy list and scrap yards won’t buy from you because you’ve sold stolen goods to them before,” he said.

Stouffer has already served time for selling stolen city property to a Youngstown scrap yard a few years ago.

Gladis said the scrap yards city police worked with on the recent investigation were very cooperative and provided important information the led to Stouffer’s capture, but “I think we can do a better job.”

“We don’t know if there are other locations in town that he hit or other locations outside of town that he hit,” he said of Stouffer, who is scheduled to appear in court today on the felony theft charge and criminal trespass misdemeanor.

Meanwhile, Gladis hopes the new law will remove Ohio from the top ranking.

Texas holds the second highest metal theft ranking, according to the dispatch article.

Senate Bill 193 also has another requirement slated to take effect Jan. 1, 2014, which will create a secure database for use by law enforcement agencies regarding scrap metal and related transactions. The database will be implemented by the director of public safety, according to reports.