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Springfield City Council Considers Online System to Monitor Certain Scrap Metal Sales

Police chief wants to track scrap metal thieves

By Mark Rainwater

March 7, 2011

Springfield, Mo — A change in a Springfield ordinance could make it harder for thieves to cash in on stolen metal. Changes to the Secondhand Goods Ordinance could require scrap metal and recycling companies to track customers using an online reporting system.

Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams says if council approves the ordinance changes it could become a template for the rest of the state. Which means soon, anyone selling a certain amount of scrap metal could be tracked by police.

To sell or pawn in Missouri you need a valid I.D. Pawnshop owners also take pictures of the customer and items sold or pawned. "It surprises me every day," Gold Digger Pawn manager Tina Mottl said. "I don't understand why they don't think they'll get caught."

Pawnshops say the system LeadsOnline can lead police right to a thief's front door. Police want to use the same system to track anyone who sells $50 or more worth of scrap metal. They also want a description of the customer's vehicle. "We're not afraid of it cutting into the product coming in," Kim McCoy of McCoy Iron and Metal said. The company already requires proof of identification from customers and uses security cameras to deter thieves. McCoy worries about the cost of using the new system. "I don't want to call it unfunded mandate but it will cause us to hire another office assistant," McCoy said.

Williams says the system is worth it. Last year in Springfield alone, police say thieves stole more than half a million in metal. "The city proposed plan is useless if there is no chain of evidence left to be identified," metal victim Jeremy Dunn told city council. Dunn wants anyone who sells more than $500 in scrap metal a year to be licensed and bonded. Others want any sale to be reported not just $50 or more. "There is a giant loophole $20,000 worth of assets can be sold for $44," metal theft victim Clifford VanNatta said.

One council member asked if this would drive thieves to sell metal outside city limits. Williams said the entire state of Arkansas is using a similar system and hopes all of Missouri will too.

City Manager Greg Burris said if the changes are approved, the council could request a status update on its success or lack thereof.

The police department would absorb the cost of adding scrap and recycling centers to the LeadsOnline system. The component would cost the city less than $3,000 a year. Scrap metal companies would be required to have their own computer and internet access. The department currently spends $16,546 a year to use the system. The scrap metal component would increase that to $19,304.

Council will decide in two weeks if anyone selling metal will follow the same requirements as if they were selling to pawnshops.

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