City ordinance takes aim at metal theft

An ordinance passed by a City Council committee today is aimed at stopping thieves who strip valuable metals from cars and buildings.

The ordinance, passed jointly by the zoning committee and the energy, environmental protection and utilities committee, requires that the city's recycling centers document all purchases involving valuable metals. 

The centers would be required to log transactions and keep sellers' I.D's on file or take photos of sellers.

The idea is to keep a paper trail so that police officers can cross-check reports of stolen items with sales transactions at recycling facilities and hopefully track down the thieves who are systematically dealing in stolen goods, says Ald. Daniel Solis (D-25), who is sponsoring the law.

Solis says the problem of metal theft is widespread and growing as the economy slumps.

"They're taking anything they can just rip off, from aluminum siding to copper and brass plumbing--also the catalytic converters from automobiles," says Solis.

"There's a lot of items getting stolen from people's homes. I get calls all the time and people are angry," says Solis.

Even the copper wiring underneath CTA viaducts is being ripped out and carted to recyclers in 200 foot-coils, says police Sgt. Brian Rybka, who testified in favor of the ordinance.

"There's currently no way for the city to track or identify those items right now," says Rybka.

Maggie Rice, deputy commissioner at the environment department, says that few of the city's 153 recycling facilities maintain purchase records.

Owners of facilities that violate the record-keeping provisions would be fined $250 to $1,000, and could face suspension or revocation of their licenses.

Anyone who lacks documentation from the city will be prohibited from selling goods that fall on a list of "prohibited" items, including manhole covers, stop signs, street lights and fire hydrant parts.

The ordinance requires that recyclers open their books to inspection during business hours by officials from the environment department and the Chicago Police Department.

The ordinance goes before the full City Council Wednesday.