In an effort to reduce the number of metal theft cases throughout the city, the Corpus Christi Police Department presented amendments to the city’s current metal recycling ordinance to city council members last week.
CCPD Criminal Investigation Division Capt. Bill Breedlove on Sept. 13 said the city has been lax in the past when it comes to enforcing current ordinance regulations and change was needed. The original 1958 ordinance requires junk metal dealers to maintain a book to record all transactions, and report new and used items received to the CCPD.
“As far as we have knowledge, this has not been occurring for some time,” Breedlove said.
Between January and May, a total of $331,000 worth of metal has been lost to thefts within the City of Corpus Christi, Breedlove said.
Examples of larger thefts over that time period included damaged air conditioning units at the Oliver Williams Senior Center, more than 150 vases taken from Rose Hill Cemetery, 37 stolen vacuum breakers from city parks and several areas churches that have been victims of metal thefts, Breedlove said.
Over the summer, the CCPD held meetings with reclamation businesses and the city’s legal department of proposed adjustments to the current ordinance.
If approved, the amended ordinance would include substantial changes for metal recycling businesses, including an increase in the bond required to operate, from $500 to $10,000. In addition, the business would need a city permit to operate, Breedlove said.
Individuals interested in selling air conditioning parts will also need to have a valid HVAC permit in order to do so, and restricted metal, such as copper tubing and brass fixtures, being sold would have to be transported in a vehicle to the facility, as opposed to being walked in, he added.
“We’re finding that a lot of the transient population is walking up with six-foot pieces of tubing in a shopping cart, which more than likely came off someone’s air conditioner unit,” Breedlove said. “We’re hoping this will keep that from happening.”
The proposed amendments would also require online reporting such as photographs, thumb prints and vehicle identification of those bringing in scrap metal through the Leads Online program used by the CCPD.
Leads Online has agreed to provide the businesses with camera and fingerprinting equipment, as well as training for employees, with no charge to the business, Breedlove said.
Councilwoman Chris Adler expressed hesitation to the amount of changes being proposed for local reclamation business owners, adding she feels the changes go beyond what is required by the state.
“There are six scrap dealers in town, and I think most of them want to do what the city is asking them to do, and are working together with you. But I think there are some things that the city is including that the state is not even requiring that is going to make it even more difficult,” Adler said.
In her discussions with local reclamation dealers, she said the main compliant is the city is asking for more when they don’t even enforce the current codes.
Adler waved a copy of an advertisement for a local business, Paul’s Recycling, that ran in the Sept. 9 issue of the Ad Sack, in which the business owner stated, “Sell me 100 pounds of aluminum and copper, or a mixture of both, and I will give you a $10 gas card free! No questions asked!”
“The ones who aren’t following the current ordinance are the ones we should be targeting,” Adler said. “These are clearly people who are not adhering to state policy, or our ordinances or anyone.”
Paul’s Recycling owner Paul Stamatakis on Monday said he was referring to the gas cards themselves, and not the origins of the metal, when his ad stated, “No questions asked.”
“I was following all the rules. I didn’t mean I wasn’t going to ask them where the stuff came from. I ask for (identification) and all that,” Stamatakis said.
Stamatakis said he was unaware of the statements made by Adler concerning the advertisement. He said he received a call last week from the Texas Department of Public Safety stating that his advertisement could be in violation of state regulations concerning recycling. Stamatakis said he called the Ad Sack and made the change that day.
A revised version of Stamatikis’s advertisement ran in the Sept. 16 issue of the Ad Sack that eliminated the “No questions asked” phrase.
As for the proposed changes to the city’s ordinance, Stamatakis said he believes the changes would help prevent individuals from stealing metal, but added there would be drawbacks for business owners.
“We’re going to lose money. We’ve probably already lost half our business with this economy. This will make it tougher,” Stamatakis said.
Breedlove pointed to the wording of the current ordinance as the reason why the department has had such a hard time in investigating metal theft cases. He said the changes would make the materials collected more useful for investigative purposes.
“In the state system, they use terms like ‘10 pounds of copper.’ We can’t tell if it’s 10 pounds of vases or a 10-pound block of metal. That’s why the descriptions on Leads Online are so important,” Breedlove said. “They (business owners) will adjust, and we are willing to work with them. But we have to update this to protect our citizens. And a lot of this money lost has been city money. It makes a difference.”
Breedlove said the CCPD would be working with the Texas Department of Public Safety, as well as neighboring departments to help combat illegal sales that may move outside the city’s boundaries, which was a concern if tougher metal recycling standards are put into place.
“What concerns me are people attempting to bypass the regulatory system altogether. We should be going after them with even more vigor,” Councilman David Loeb said. “I don’t want us to monitor the legitimate people and miss the others who are not legitimate.”
Breedlove said without a permit, junk dealing is a class B misdemeanor, which is an arrestable offense. The agenda item will be presented again for a council vote at a later date.