B.C.'s almost six-month old Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act appears to be making a dent in metal theft.
“We noticed almost immediately, a marked decrease in theft,” said Shawn Hall, spokesman for Telus, the telecommunications giant that has often been a victim of metal theft.
“It’s very heartening.”
The act, which took effect in July, requires metal dealers and recyclers to record details about people who sell them metal and record descriptions of metal that they purchase.
Metal buyers must also give police a report of their purchases on the same day of the sale.
A person cannot sell regulated metal unless they show their driver’s licence or B.C. Identification Card to the dealer or recycler.
In 2011, Telus recorded 380 thefts in B.C., most of those the stealing of live copper cable.
For the first half of 2012, prior to the act coming into force, Hall said there was more than one theft per day.
What that meant was that by the end of June 2012, Telus suffered 260 thefts over a 181-day period.
But, there’s been a big turnaround.
In August, for example, only two incidents of copper cable theft at Telus sites in the Lower Mainland were recorded. In October, there were eight robberies of Telus cable, most in the Lower Mainland.
“There’s been less than 20 instances of theft since the law was enacted,” Hall said early last month.
“Clearly the legislation is discouraging thieves from stealing metal and making it more difficult to unload and more difficult for scrap dealers to purchase material,” he noted.
Copper became a hot commodity, starting in late 2009 when copper prices began rising to a peak of almost US$4.60 per pound by February 2011.
Canadian scrap buyers pay anywhere from $2.55 to $3 per pound for copper scrap.
Metal dealers and recyclers, who purchase metals that are regulated by the act – copper, brass, bronze, aluminum, lead, magnesium, nickel or zinc – are supposed to register with the province by Jan. 26, 2013.
Of the 76 identified metal dealers/recyclers in B.C., 64 had registered by early December, according to Ministry of Justice spokeswoman Tasha Schollen.
Government inspectors have had information meetings with all 76 businesses.
Additionally, 74 of the 76 dealers/recyclers have had their first inspection, Schollen wrote in an email.
There have been non-compliant findings, but they have been resolved through education.
And because the act is new and the registration period still exists, it’s too soon to measure the efficacy of the program, Schollen noted.
But the boss at a major Lower Mainland electrical company echoed the Telus experience and said he’s definitely seen a drop in metal theft over the last few months.
“In the past, we’d be hit four to five times a week,” said Graham Trafford, general manager of Mott Electric.
“We still get the odd night owl coming in, taking metal out of the yard, but there’s fewer thefts now.”
Copper wire was high on the robbers’ wish list.
Trafford is keeping his fingers crossed that the still-infant act is responsible for the decline in theft.
A prolific metal thief could be in jail, but once released, thefts could start climbing again, he said.
At Telus, copper cable theft is the leading cause of power outages, outstripping even vehicle collisions with Telus infrastructure or weather events, Hall said.
Since the act came into effect, Telus’s crew of technicians, who were tasked with restoring power after metal thefts, have been reassigned to other duties.
But even though the metal act has so far almost scrapped metal theft, Hall said vigilance is key.
“We have a full-time security department,” he said.
“We’re not getting complacent.”