Are we tough enough on metal theft? - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Are we tough enough on metal theft?

May 16, 2008

 Albany - It's one of Georgia's fastest growing crimes. Theft of air conditioner parts, copper wire, and plumbing pipes have become a major crime problem not only in Albany, but the surrounding counties.

Some Law enforcers question whether the punishment for the crime is tough enough? Theft of copper wire and metal under $500 is a misdemeanor. Prosecutors argue that the laws can be tough enough if used correctly.

Scrap yards are paying more than three dollars a pound for copper wire and other metals. It's led to thefts from air conditioning units in Albany and Dougherty County, the theft of scrap metal from farms in Terrell and Mitchell Counties, and the stripping of farm irrigation pivots in Lee and Terrell Counties.

"When the economy gets bad the thefts are going to increase," says Lee County Chief Dennis Parker.

It's got law enforcers questioning whether the state needs to separate these type of thefts from other property crimes and make them a felony no matter the amount.

"I think we should be getting a little harder on the property crimes," says Lee County Chief Dennis Parker.

Right now just the theft of the metal and copper wire is a misdemeanor if the amount is under $500. Prosecutors say usually the theft, isn't the only crime.

"If they go into your home to take the metal than that would be a burglary which is punishable up to 20 years. If they damage something like your air conditioning unit or your pivot system if your a farmer or any other equipment or property that you own and the damage to that property is more than 500 dollars then they could face felony charged there as well," says Dougherty District Attorney Ken Hodges.

Ken Hodges says making metal thefts a felony has been discussed by prosecutors statewide, but most feel the current theft statute broadly covers the issue sufficiently. Hodges says prosecuting thieves for the damage they cause often makes the crime a felony, and can mean harsher penalties.

"To get a few hundred dollars worth of copper they can cause thousands, and thousands of dollars worth of damage and so that's the problem. If we can prove they're the ones that did it then we can pursue the felony charges that are associated with the thousands of dollars worth of damage," said Hodges.

Law enforcers say 80 percent of metal and copper theft are committed by repeat offenders. It's why prosecutors say scrap metal yards need to be more diligent in checking out metal sellers so they don't accept wire and metal that is obviously stolen.

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