Metal theft is one of the fastest growing crimes.   The rise of industrialization in India and China have created a booming black-market for copper, aluminum, stainless steel, nickel and scrap iron.  This week the US Senate Judiciary Committee will take up a measure making metal theft a federal crime that comes with a ten-year sentence.

Barry Ward is CEO of Trees for Houston, a non-profit company that provides trees for communities, and tells KTRH they’ve been victimized several times.

“Periodically we’ll have incidents where we do large plantings and we have a number of large numbers of these steel stakes that are in the ground,” Ward told KTRH.  He says the theft is a drain on their resources, and what many would consider modest amounts of money can have “a significant deleterious effect.”

He said their most recent theft was somewhere in the realm of $4,000-$5,000.

Sgt. Fred Persons of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office tells KTRH that in 2007 the Texas State Legislature passed regulations on metal theft, but Persons said the bill didn’t provide the power to enforce the regulations.  In the last session, Persons says, they corrected that.  Persons says scrap metal yards are now required to take a picture of the person selling the metal, mist photograph what they are selling, get a description of the license plate and scan their driver’s license or photo ID.

“It was rampant,” Persons said of metal theft.  “People didn’t realize how bad it was.  It was over a million dollars a month just in unincorporated Harris County that was getting stolen.  Since we started regulating the scrap yards at the beginning of this year, the loses have gone from the millions to the hundreds of thousands.”

The federal law, Persons said, is for things like telephone lines, power lines, ground wire that goes to lighting highways and freeways, and public infrastructure.