Eager to stop a rash of copper thefts plaguing businesses, the Orlando City Council is close to passing new regulations for scrap-metal centers that would be among the toughest in the state, reports the Orlando Sentinel. Metal recyclers say that in their haste, Orlando officials may put them out of business. Mayor Buddy Dyer said copper thieves are destroying air-conditioning systems that cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair after thieves rip out copper worth at most a couple hundred dollars. “Just this month, Jones High School was hit twice, and it cost them $27,000 to fix these things,” Dyer said. “The folks who steal it get a nominal amount that’s a fraction of the damage they cause.” There were 130 copper thefts in Orlando last year.
Homes have been robbed, but businesses and institutions are the main targets. Thieves tear apart outdoor air-conditioning units to get to the copper inside, and typically the entire unit must be replaced. Under Florida law, recycling centers are required to record the name and address of sellers, and even take their thumbprint, photograph, and a photograph of the metal itself. If sellers bring in more than $1,000 worth of metal, they can only be paid by check, not cash. The proposed ordinance would go further, dropping the $1,000 threshold to $50. If it passes, those with $50 or more worth of copper, aluminum, gold, lead, nickel, silver, tin, or zinc could only be paid by check, and the check must be mailed to a physical address. The rule is meant to discourage thieves from trying to sell stolen metals and help police track those who do. Metal recyclers said the rules they already follow gather plenty of information on sellers, and the new one wouldn’t do anything to stop copper thefts.