Community members brainstorm ways to thwart copper theft

Stolen copper (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

WICHITA, Kansas – Copper theft is a million dollar problem here in Wichita and affects many more people across the state, which why Kansans from all walks of life met today to look for a fix through legislation.

Small business owners, farmers, ministers, cops, and legislators all piled into one room this morning to try and figure out what changes can be made to help fix the problem that’s grown exponentially in the past decade.

“Small businesses in this state are going out of business today because of their losses in these thefts,” said Ed Klumpp, a retired police chief.
Copper theft is not unique to Kansas, it’s a nationwide problem. Copper is being stolen and sold illegally and while it doesn’t carry a high buy-back value, the victims certainly feel the cost of the damage.

“Materials stolen repeatedly over fences throughout the course of time,” said Ken Mueller of Midwest Scrap Management. “How much money is involved? On a regular basis, we see almost $40,000 a month of material stolen.”

The problem impacts rural and urban communities. Churches, restaurants, and businesses all tell the woes of seeing people steal wiring or air conditioning units looking for quick cash.

Now the Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett is asking the community what can be done to fix the problem. He says the solution could be as simple as figuring out consistent, state-wide regulations.

“Scrap yards in Wichita who say we have a Wichita ordinance that’s robust, maybe the county guys aren’t subject to that,” said Bennett. “The guys in Harvey county, Reno county may not be subject to the same rules.”

Bennett pushed for a bill last year, that would have required buyers at scrap yards to photograph sellers, record serial numbers and get the names of sellers. All of that information would be kept in a database with the Kansas bureau of investigation.

The bill never made it through the legislature, but with lawmakers in attendance, he hopes the next session could bring about some much needed change.

“The decision makers needed to hear this number one, but also I think it’ll help us fashion a better legislation next year,” said Bennett.
Among the other suggestions at today’s meeting, an idea is to have people register for a license to sell scrap metal, saying it could help dissuade people from committing the crime.

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