By Heather J. Carlson

Amid a spike in copper thefts, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has introduced a bill to crack down on thieves caught stealing metal from critical infrastructure such as roads, bridges, utilities and grave sites.

Klobuchar introduced the "Metal Theft Prevention Act" this week, which makes it an explicit federal crime to steal metal from critical infrastructure. It also aims to make it tougher for thieves to sell their loot to scrap yards.

In Minnesota and across the country, people have died from houses that have exploded due to the copper wiring being stolen," Klobuchar said. "So while you have had copper wiring theft in the Rochester area, sometimes it gets even worse."

Local law enforcement agencies have seen a steady increase in metal theft in the area. Olmsted County Sgt. Tom Claymon estimates his office deals with seven to 10 metal theft cases a month. In the past month, there have been six thefts from communications towers in the city, and someone recently stole 1,200 feet of copper wiring from a Rochester streetlight project. So why the increase in theft? There are a few reasons.

"The price is good. It's a lucrative business," Claymon said. "It's worth their time to spend cutting ladders up and to spend their time stripping wire."

Klobuchar's bill seeks national standards for scrap metal yards to make it easier for law enforcement to track down thieves. These standards are similar to those already in place in Minnesota. Her bill would require scrap yards to keep detailed records of their sales for two years and make them available to authorities. Also, any sale of scrap metal of more than $100 would have to be done with a check instead of cash to make it easier to find potential thieves. The bill has bipartisan support, with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham co-sponsoring the bill. She is optimistic the bill will get a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, since both she and Graham serve on that committee.


Jeremiah Watson, owner of Watson Recycling in Rochester, applauds the senator for introducing the bill. He said Minnesota's requirements for scrap metal dealers have worked well and enabled his company to help authorities catch individuals in six different cases over the past year.

"The main thing is we are able to track what we purchase, and if there is a theft that occurs, we have all the information about who we bought it from," Watson said. "So we are able to help law enforcement with evidence and finding the right people."

In many cases, the key to cracking down on this type of theft rests with authorities having a good relationship with local scrap yard dealers, Claymon said.

"They don't want to be furthering crime," he said. "They don't want to be giving these criminals an opportunity to be stealing."