Despite both a Tennessee state law and a Memphis city ordinance, there hasn't been a single prosecution in Shelby County for selling or buying prohibited scrap metal since 2009, according to a report from WMC TV.
The result, according to property owners and managers, is that thieves continue to destroy thousands of dollars a year in air conditioning units and condensers to strip them of copper tubing and coils.
Mike Warr, executive vice president of Porter-Leath, a Memphis resource for at-risk children, showed the reporters one of 19 air conditioning units stripped off the roof of Porter-Leath's Head Start school in Memphis.
"They bring their tools, snip and cut," he said. "$196,000 in damages. Had to shut down the school for a week. 260 kids."
Bill Kenner, pricipal broker of Prime Properties, an agency that owns and manages 40 Memphis rental properties, lost eight air conditioning units in a year — not just the copper, but the whole unit. Each cost him $1,200 to replace, he said.
In 2007, the Memphis City Council passed an ordinance to curb the sale of prohibited scrap metal, mostly copper tubing and air conditioning coils. The ordinance requires legitimate scrap metal sellers to be licensed, keep a buyer's log and invoke a 10-day waiting period on sales to allow for monitoring by law enforcement, a procedure called "tag-and-hold."
This ordinance mirrors a Tennessee statute that declares the sale of prohibited scrap metal a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail and up to a $250,000 fine, the report says.
Records requests, however, revealed that despite thousands of thefts, burglaries and vandalism cases since the ordinance's inception, the county has not prosecuted a single violator of the ordinance or statute in three years.
Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich defends the records, saying that "If we're not seeing any of the cases, then, obviously there just aren't cases being made that fit that ordinance. However, that doesn't mean there isn't prosecution of those who steal scrap metal."
The county's database doesn't break down the "tens of thousands" of theft, burglary, aggravated burglary and vandalism cases in a way that can separate the ones involving scrap metal, Weirich said.
Both law enforcement and licensed scrap dealers say that the real problem is thieves and unlicensed scrap metal sellers who smuggle the stolen property into Arkansas to sell it. Arkansas has neither a state law or any city ordinances to restrict scrap metal sales, according to WMC TV.