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Scrap metal thieves strike 2,000 Northeast Ohio homes in the past year

Some Ohio cities fight back with technology

By Joe Pagonakis

February 10, 2011

CLEVELAND – Akron Police said scrap metal thieves are becoming more bold and brazen.

Last month, crooks attempted to take down a large copper power line along Route 224, using a ladder, bolt cutters and a saw that was attached to a broom handle.

Their attempt almost cost them their lives, the power line crossed with a "live line" carrying 23,000 volts and then came crashing down onto an on-coming vehicle. No one was hurt and the thieves got away.

Edith Rice of Cleveland had her rental home ransacked by metal thieves three times in just four months.

"They took plenty of copper piping and the metal from my boiler," said Rice. "They only get $15 to $20 for the metal, but it's going to cost me thousands in repairs."

Cleveland Housing Court Judge Ray Pianka knows about the growing problem with metal theft firsthand. Pianka issued 2,000 warrants in 2010 to search damaged homes after metal thieves broke-in and stole any metal they could get their hands on.

"We have to look at other areas of the country, even within our state for new ways to tackle this problem," said Judge Pianka.

In response, 5 On Your Side traveled to Columbus -- a city that drafted progressive legislation in an effort to curtail metal theft. The measure was drafted in 2007, legislation Columbus Police said resulted in 60 arrests in 2010, with a 95 percent conviction rate.

The Columbus law calls for the cooperation of all city scrap metal dealers and according to police has been an effective deterrent.

Scrap dealers require all who bring in scrap to give their thumbprint, and show government identification. Every item brought to the scrap dealer is photographed and all the information is posted into the Columbus Police LeadsOnline database.

If a metal theft occurs, police can simply run the description of the stolen item through the database in the search for a suspect.

"The system does the work of four or five detectives, and the work can be done in seconds," said Columbus Police Detective Jack Addington. "The system pays for itself."

5 On Your Side obtained a copy of the Columbus scrap metal law and gave it to lawmakers in Cleveland and Akron. The Akron police chief and law director are now evaluating the Columbus law to see how it stacks up against Akron's current legislation.

Many thieves like to strike homes or business locations that are vacant. It's important to try and make your property look like it's "lived-in." Put lights on timers, keep your property shoveled, don't let mail or newspapers stack-up, you can even run a clock radio inside the property.

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