Metal theft is down sharply in the first six months since a new provincial law took effect to clamp down on unscrupulous scrap buyers.
Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said the number of live phone cables stolen by thieves dropped 80 per cent from almost 250 in the first half of 2012 to just over 50 in the second half.
“We saw the number of thefts decline almost immediately after the legislation was passed,” Hall said. “It makes it far more difficult for thieves to unload their material.”
The Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act requires scrap metal buyers to keep a daily log of their purchases and suppliers, who have to provide identification, be registered and can only be paid by cheque for amounts over $50.
Some individual cities already had their own bylaws, but the regulatory patchwork meant thieves could steal wire in one area and sell it in a city where it either wasn’t regulated or local rules were poorly enforced.
In the past, some dealers have paid cash without getting any ID from “salvagers” – even ones bringing in everything from street drain covers and traffic lights to metal grave markers and whole phone booths.
“There’s more to be done, but the legislation is certainly doing its part,” Hall said. “It makes it difficult for those bad apples in the scrap industry to continue knowingly buying stolen material.”
Hall also credits police for taking metal theft seriously, but added he’s hopeful the problem doesn’t escalate again after some recently jailed chronic offenders are released.
Telus lost $16 million to metal theft last year and Hall noted service outages also leave residents without 911 emergency calling and cost small businesses sales when they can’t process credit and debit cards.
BC Hydro has also reported a more than 50 per cent drop in copper wire theft since July.
So far 64 of the 76 identified metal dealers or recyclers have registered – as required under the new law – and the rest must do so by Jan. 26.
Provincial inspectors have met with all operators and performed the first periodic spot checks of most of them to ensure they comply with the new rules.
A Richmond metal dealer became the first in the province to be issued a $575 ticket under the new law for buying stolen metal – storm drain covers pilfered from Vancouver streets.
If offending dealers don’t shape up after inspectors hit them with violation tickets, authorities can also seek charges under the act – the maximum penalties are fines of up to $100,000 for a business and six months in jail for an individual.
“It’s important that this industry is regulated and our inspectors will continue to inspect metal dealers and monitor the industry to ensure compliance,” Justice Minister Shirley Bond said.
Critics in the recycling industry say there should be more emphasis on police pursuing thieves rather than adding to their paperwork.
They also say some police forces are not yet fully prepared to receive daily electronic logs of buyers.