Officers in the tricounty area are hopeful that a new state law regulating scrap metal transportation and sales will reduce thefts.
The new law, which goes into effect Wednesday, requires anyone who buys or sells copper, catalytic converters and other high-value scrap metals to get a permit from their county sheriff's office. The permit is free for sellers.
Scrap metal dealers and recycling companies must check the person's permit before buying the metal, and they can no longer pay cash for copper.
Law enforcement officers in York, Chester and Lancaster counties have seen an increase in metal thefts this year as copper values have steadily increased. Officers say the draw to the crime is a quick, easy dollar.
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"It's been tough to deal with," said Maj. Matt Shaw of the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office. "A bucket of copper doesn't have a serial number on it.
"The biggest problem with it is they cause more damage than what the property is worth. Getting $50 worth of metal from an air-conditioning unit can cause a $1,000 in damages."
Thieves have been stealing copper pipes and wiring, air-conditioning units and even metal grates from street drains and car washes.
"They'll steal any kind of metal," Chester County Sheriff Richard Smith said. "They'll even steal broken-down lawn mowers from someone's yard."
Shaw said he hopes having to check permits will deter thieves.
"I hope the new law helps provide a more accountable atmosphere," he said. "With scrap dealers needing to check identification and keep more records, I certainly hope it helps us curb some of those thefts."
He said when deputies come across items in the scrap yards that they suspect was stolen, it's hard to prove.
Requiring a permit should reduce the number of stolen items sold because metal thieves aren't likely to apply for a permit at the sheriff's office, officers said.
Earlier this year, deputies with the York County Sheriff's Office launched an effort to catch metal thieves in the act, using surveillance and public safety checkpoints. Rock Hill police even dedicated a detective to investigating these cases.
York County already required a permit to transport valuable metals. The new law tightens its restrictions and adds selling requirements.
Who needs a permit?
All recycling companies must apply for the new, free permits at their county sheriff's department.
Anyone who sells scrap metal must apply for one, too. Sellers who are full-time scrap metal collectors must apply in person for a one-year permit. Anyone else can apply for a 48-hour permit, but they only can have two of those within a 12-month period.
Scrap yards and companies that purchase metals need a bi-annually renewed permit to buy copper. The business must operate in a fixed location. The buyer has to verify the seller's permit.
Those that violate the new law could see hefty fines and up to 30 days in jail.
Need a permit?
York County: Annual permits to transport and sell metals will be issued starting Aug. 22. Apply in person from 9 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the Moss Justice Center, 1675-2A York Highway, York.
You can also apply for a permit to purchase metals at the sheriff's office during the same hours.
A 48-hour transport permit can be obtained by calling 803-628-3059.
Chester County: For short-term permits, call Laura Long at the Chester County Sheriff's Office at 803-581-5131. Annual permits to transport and permits to purchase must be obtained in person at the sheriff's office, 2740 Dawson Drive, Chester.
Lancaster County : For 48-hour transportation permits call 803-313-2108. Annual permits to transport and permits to purchase must be obtained in person at the sheriff's office, 1941 Pageland Highway, Lancaster.
The two-day transportation permits and annual permits to sell are free. Permits to purchase cost $200 and are valid for two years. A state issued ID is necessary to complete applications.
Dealers who want to verify permits online should visit www.scmetals.info.