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Metal thefts drop a bit, Macon police say

Reports of metal thefts are down slightly from last year so far, police told the Public Safety Committee of Macon City Council on Monday.

Though a new state law tightens standards on the sale and reporting of scrap metal, still only about one-tenth of reported cases lead to an arrest, Macon police Lt. David Freeland said.

So far this year police have taken on 322 cases of metal theft -- not just copper, but fencing, tin, appliances: “Anything we think could be stolen and sold for scrap metal,” Freeland said.

Thirty-two of those cases have been cleared by arrest, he said.

At this time last year there were already about 60 more cases, but only 25 had resulted in arrests, Freeland said.

Altogether in 2011 there were 990 cases of metal theft, and 98 people arrested in connection with them, he told the committee.

The report from Freeland, Bibb County Sheriff’s Lt. George Meadows and Macon police Maj. Robert Grabowski came a little more than a week after a new law went into effect statewide. It’s aimed at gathering more information on metal sales, requiring recycling companies to register with each county, Councilman Henry Gibson said. That’s why he asked Meadows to be present, in hopes that city and county will share more information on the problem, Gibson said.

Freeland said copper coils from air conditioners, a frequently-stolen item, now can’t be bought except from licensed contractors, or when accompanied by documentation that an old air conditioner has been replaced. But if someone tries to sell a coil without that information, recyclers aren’t required to report the attempt, he said.

Meadows said there are 13 registered recyclers in Bibb County, but five of those don’t have permanent buildings here. Even so, the legitimate businesses are quick to report competition from other transient recyclers working out of trucks, he said.

Council President James Timley said he’d been informed that police gave recyclers a one-week “grace period” on charging people under the new law. Grabowski acknowledged that they could have cited some during that time, and Timley said it should have been strictly enforced from the start.

“I can’t see giving a criminal a grace period,” Timley said.

Grabowski said police give a similar grace period on other laws to make sure potential violators are familiar with new standards, and that the first week of the new recycling law has generated some legitimate questions that the attorney general has been asked to clarify.

“Until we get clarification, it’s not worth the manpower ... to go down there and set up an operation only to find out that there was a loophole ... and the case is not going to be prosecuted,” he said.

Gibson backed Timley, saying there shouldn’t have been a day’s grace for recyclers, who are doing “everything they can to circumvent the law.” He likened them to pawnshops: “Just about everything there is stolen,” Gibson said.

Curfew

There was greater harmony on how police have been enforcing the midnight-to-5-a.m. city curfew for teenagers. Since the end of May officers have written 19 citations to parents or guardians for curfew violations, arrested three teenagers for entering an auto, and returned two reported runaways, Grabowski said.

Answering a question from Chairman Virgil Watkins, he said there’s only been one case so far in which police were unable to quickly contact parents or guardians. If adults can’t be located by the end of an officer’s shift, police will contact the Division of Family and Children Services and could charge parents with child neglect or abandonment, Grabowski said.

The small number of charges so far shows that parents are apparently taking notice of the law, he said, and Councilman Frank Tompkins agreed. He commended police for curfew enforcement.

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.

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