NIAGARA FALLS –Sen. Charles E. Schumer picked St. John de LaSalle Roman Catholic Church as the location Thursday to announce proposed legislation that would get tough on thieves who strip and sell copper and other metal from homes and businesses.
The church is one of a long list of city sites plagued by copper thefts.
The New York Democrat was joined by local law enforcement and other officials in announcing the Metal Theft Prevention Act of 2013, which would put some federal muscle behind the effort to combat the growing crime.
Due to the high price of iron, copper and other metals, Niagara County has seen a significant number of scrap metal burglaries and larcenies, including a theft from a hotel on Buffalo Avenue; St. John de LaSalle school building, which has had its copper downspouts stolen multiple times; and a home on Linwood Avenue that had nearly $1,500 worth of newly installed copper wiring and pipes stolen while it was being renovated.
Niagara Falls Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto said, “Over the past five years we’ve experienced hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of metal thefts and property crime related to metal thefts, so any additional tool that we can get to combat crime is welcome and helpful.”
He said the city ordinances are sound and relationships with scrap metal yards in the city are good, but since thieves know this, they have been leaving the city and, in some cases, the state to sell the metal.
“Having a federal law will help deal with that,” DalPorto said.
Under Schumer’s proposal:
• Documentation would be required that those selling metal to recyclers own the metal or are authorized to sell it.
• Recyclers would be required to keep detailed records of purchases of metal.
• The amount that recyclers could pay in cash for scrap metal would be capped at $100.
• It would be a federal crime to steal metal from critical infrastructure.
“It is time to put thieves who steal scrap metal from Niagara homes, businesses and infrastructure and even churches behind iron-clad bars,” Schumer said.
He said the increasing instances of metal thefts, especially in a city that is trying to redevelop, prompted him to take action to make sure “the only metal these criminals get their hands on is in a locked jail cell.”
“The unfortunate consequences of looting extend beyond the immediate losses felt by affected families and companies, to the impaired infrastructure left behind in the crimes’ wake,” said Mayor Paul A. Dyster. “Homes and workplaces that were once compliant could also be faced with extensive repairs to bring their properties back to code for occupancy and safety.”
Dyster said the measures outlined in Schumer’s bill are critical, by both making recyclers accountable and capping the amounts paid by recyclers.
“These crimes often cause extensive damage to homes and businesses,” DalPorto said. “They cause the police department to spend excessive amounts of man hours working on these cases, hours that could be spent addressing violent crimes. Sen. Schumer’s aggressive approach to this crime will assist law enforcement and prosecutors with combating these property crimes and protecting the innocent victims.”
Schumer pointed to properties that have been stripped multiple times while they are vacant, specifically noting the Fallside Hotel, owned by the Merani family, which will be undergoing renovations to reopen. The family estimates that repairs and labor as a result of these thefts have cost $20,000.
“As a developer and also a victim of scrap metal theft in Niagara Falls, I know what a hindrance this crime can be to progress in our city,” said Faisal Merani, president of the Merani Hotel Group.
Emma Chapman, owner of Rainbow Property Management, agreed, “As someone who has invested large sums of money into renovating homes in the city only to see them repeatedly vandalized, I and many others know that we need this bill to protect property owners like myself who have been working very hard to improve Niagara Falls.”