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Costly Metal Thefts Prompt Push For Statewide Seller Blacklist

Michael Pereckas

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Stricter recordkeeping requirements for scrap metal dealers and sellers have not stopped trafficking in stolen copper wire and metal parts. That's according to Northwest police agencies and crime victims. So in Olympia Friday, Washington state lawmakers promised to look at further steps including a possible blacklist of suspicious sellers.

A few cities have tried tougher licensing requirements, enforcement, or circulating lists of stolen items and known peddlers. But thieves move around and rampant theft of valuable copper wire, construction materials and scrap metal continues unabated according to frequently victimized utilities and legitimate scrap dealers.

"We need statewide regulation and enforcement," says Louise Bray who works for Schnitzer Steel Industries, a large Northwest recycler. "I believe we need a licensure program and some kind of statewide alert system."

Bray says states could require all participants in the scrap recycling industry use an existing voluntary theft alert database. That website lists metal stolen nearby which dealers should avoid buying.

Wash. State Representative Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) leads an informal Metal Theft Work Group composed of scrap industry, law enforcement, utility representatives and other stakeholders. Goodman says he will sponsor legislation in 2013 based on the group's recommendations.

Goodman expects the package of stricter industry oversight will include statewide licensing, a theft alert system along with the creation of a parallel "no buy" list of known peddlers of stolen property.

"We've tried criminal penalties, but the problem has gotten worse. This is a problem of markets. The market is insufficiently regulated," says Goodman.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.