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City eyes more ways to punish house-strippers

By Ignazio Mesina

October 2, 2014

The Collins administration is trying again to toughen Toledo laws and penalties against people who steal pipes and siding from vacant houses.

Toledo City Council in August approved an ordinance making it possible for law enforcement to put known thieves on a state-maintained "do-not-buy" list of people who are barred from selling to scrapyards and pawnshops.

Thomas Kroma, city director of the department of neighborhoods, this week asked city council to consider harsher penalties for people convicted of house stripping, a contributing factor to more city blight.

The current house-stripping law sets the maximum fine at $1,000.

Anyone convicted also could be charged under state law and pay the state fine.

"I looked at previous convictions for house stripping and typical fines being handed down were $100 and for the amount of damage being done to these properties, we felt it was not nearly high enough penalty," Mr. Kroma said.

The proposed change would set a minimum penalty of a $250 fine and incarceration of "not less than three days nor more than six months."

Mr. Kroma said those would be guidelines, which judges are not bound to follow.

The city already has authority to impound a vehicle used in stripping metal.

An August ordinance amended the city code violation of metal stripping to be consistent with the definitions under the Ohio Revised Code.

A second ordinance approved by council in August accepted $20,000 from the Ohio Capital Corp. for Housing to allow for rewards of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest or conviction of someone who is caught stripping a house.

Mr. Kroma said no one has yet collected the award.

A Toledo police detective is dedicated to following up on the tips received.

"Anything we do can help deter it, we should do," he said. "We also have the house-stripping hot line, and we got a call today."

Anyone who sees a house being stripped should call 911 but to report an ongoing problem, the number is 419-936-2020.

Mr. Kroma also wants the city to subscribe to an online list that contains photos of items scrapped and a photo and thumbprint of the person who sold the items.

The program LeadsOnLine would cost the city $20,000 a year.

Councilman Jack Ford, chairman of council's neighborhoods committee, said tougher house-stripping penalties alone are not enough.

"There has to be a series of pieces of legislation that tackle this," Mr. Ford said.

"We also have to be a little stronger with the end of the stripping process — and that is going after those who buy materials."


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