Scrap Metal Theft in Michigan: Just How Bad is it and What Can We Do?

It’s bad. At this point in time, it seems that nothing is safe from scrap metal pirates in Michigan cities. Along with metal items that are usually stolen – things like plumbing, wiring and trim from both occupied and vacant buildings – thieves are now targeting places like churches and cemeteries, stealing statues of Jesus that appear to contain copper, or mausoleum doors from cemeteries throughout the state. In other words, scrap metal theft isn’t going away anytime soon; it’s only going to continue to grow and expand to even more areas.

Image courtesy of MDOT’s Photography Unit.

Detroit in particular has been hit the hardest by scrap metal thievery. On top of the rest of the issues the city currently faces, the theft of metal and ensuing blight that almost always follows it have become a major problem. With a police force that takes an hour or more to respond to emergency calls, most residents are left to protect themselves against scrap metal thieves – an almost impossible job without being alert 24 hours a day 7 days a week, a task no resident can or should have to take on.

Farmers are experiencing tractor theft.

Scrap metal theft isn’t just an urban issue, either. Farmers in some of Michigan’s most rural areas have been victims of scrap metal theft, feeling the loss of tractors, irrigation systems and even the copper wiring from wind turbines. This problem isn’t limited to Detroit’s urban landscape, although the city has faced some of the most detrimental scrap metal theft. This is a statewide issue.

Here are a few more pieces of information that highlight how bad this problem has become in the state of Michigan:

  • Michigan is tenth in the nation for the number of scrap metal thefts, costing Michiganders millions of dollars.
  • The Detroit-Warren-Livonia metro area has the fifth highest incidence in the nation of scrap metal theft. Vehicle catalytic converters, outdoor air conditioning units and copper wiring are frequently targeted in urban areas.
  • Scrap metal thefts cause public safety hazards when scrappers steal manhole covers, railroad weights, and stop signs.

So what can we do?

We can advocate for the passing of HB 4593-4595, a package of bills aiming to make it more difficult for scrap metal thieves to receive a pay day for their crimes. The hope is that once it becomes more difficult to sell the stolen goods, the high rate of thievery that has hit Michigan will start to decline. Collectively, these bills would toughen the rules for scrap-metal dealers, requiring them to photograph material, train employees to recognize stolen metal and delay payment, among other changes. By tightening up the current law, we can help eliminate the market for stolen scrap metal and end scrap metal theft. You can sign a petition in support of the passage of these bills here.