Ordinance aims to stem scrap metal thefts in Indianapolis

Sheryl Facktor and her family have invested considerable time and money renovating their north side home.
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Sheryl Facktor and her family have invested considerable time and money renovating their north side home, most recently adding a new tile roof and custom copper gutters and down spouts.

So you can imagine her surprise when she discovered two of those down spouts gone, ripped from the back of her garage.

"It was extremely frustrating," she said.

Facktor was one of eight to ten homeowners in her area targeted by thieves over the past few months.

"It's just difficult," she said. "Because living in the city in an older home, it's already expensive."

With copper scrap going for more than $3 a pound, thieves are going for whatever they can get their hands on, even down spouts. As Facktor well knows, her down spouts are long gone, most likely crushed and recycled.

"There's really little you can do unless you catch them in the act or with material and ask them where they got it," she said.

Check the Yellow Pages, and you'll find more than a dozen scrap metal dealers in Marion County alone. In the past some have been charged with buying stolen property, but a fairly new ordinance has made that more difficult.

It requires scrap dealers to make a copy of a government-issued ID, take a picture of the seller and what he or she is selling and not only record the items but enter them in what's called the Leads online data system.

It also requires "scrappers" to buy a $268 hauler's permit.

Periodically the Department of Code Enforcement (DCE) does "sweeps" to see if the law is being followed.

Eyewitness News recently joined several DCE inspectors and IMPD officers as they went on a sweep of several scrap yards in Indianapolis.

The first stop was Zore's, which got the all-clear.

DCE Inspector Randy Duhammell said, "They've got a good system. They have a camera that takes pictures and gets ID's from everyone."

Zore's General Manager Bill Derbes said he didn't mind the random sweeps.

"I know it's a huge problem," he said. "We have seen a fair share of questionable items and we try to stay on top of that and be proactive with authorities."

He said the dealers that don't gives everyone "bad name and we won't take any part of that."

Next, the DCE team stopped at Westside Auto.

DCE's Kristin Settle said the salvage facility was "logging information and taking picture, at this point, it's not making it's way into the Leads system."

She said they would be given a couple weeks to get things in order or be issued a ticket for a court summons.

Manager Patricia Clark wasn't happy.

"It's one thing to do inspections on salvage yard, but to include the customers coming in trying to make a living? I just don't like to see how they're being treated," Clark said.

She was referring to DCE inspectors stopping people hauling in truckloads of scrap, asking for their driver's licenses and hauler's permits, which are required if you're hauling anything but your own property.

Of the three people stopped, none had the $268 hauler's permit, nor knew it was required.

One man, who was also cited for driving with a suspended license, said, "I'm just trying to feed my kids, that's all it is. It's a bunch of harassment. I'm not doing no crimes."

Those cited for not having a permit were told if they got one before their court dates, the ticket fee would be waived.

Settle said the permit is one more way to crack down on people trying to sell stolen goods, though on this day not a single person was accused of doing that.

At the end of the day, issued 12 violations, including nine tickets for unlicensed refuse haulers, two for operating a vehicle with a suspended license and one for operating a vehicle while never receiving a license.

While the city ordinance and sweeps are meant to deter thieves, Settle acknowledges that they do little to stop thieves from going to other counties where there's no need to show an ID or have an permit.

Copper theft of all kinds is no small problem. In fact, nationwide, it's estimated to amount to $1 billion a year.

Sheryl Facktor estimates her loss at $2,000 - harder yet when she knows the thieves who took her down spouts will get less than $50.

Police meantime say the best thing victims can do is report any theft immediately and call 911 whenever they see a suspicious person or activity in their neighborhood.