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May 28, 2014

CSG Study Highlights Need for State Data on Metal Theft

LEXINGTON, Ky.--Reports of scrap metal theft have become common in both the local and national news over the past few years. Insurance companies, law enforcement officials and industry watchdogs have called theft of scrap metal--including copper, aluminum, nickel, stainless steel and scrap iron--one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States.


State leaders have taken notice, passing a flurry of legislation meant to curb metal theft and help law enforcement find and prosecute criminals. A big chunk of that legislation focused on placing new regulations and requirements on transactions at scrap metal recycling facilities, where thieves might attempt to sell stolen goods.
Researchers at The Council of State Governments, in collaboration with the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, known as ISRI, set out to determine if all that legislation is having an impact on metal theft rates.
"We wanted to know if those laws were affecting metal theft rates or if certain kinds of legislation were more effective at stopping metal thieves," said Jennifer Burnett, CSG program manager for fiscal and economic development policy and the study's primary author. "To begin evaluating metal theft legislation, however, we needed to know exactly how much theft was occurring."
After finding no existing source of compiled theft data for states, CSG researchers surveyed states and local law enforcement officials to determine if reliable statistics could be collected.
"The data just isn't there," said Burnett. "No state is comprehensively tracking metal theft crime statistics. While some local jurisdictions are collecting their own data, those data have a number of limitations when it comes to evaluating the impacts of state legislation.
"The bottom line is that you can't effectively evaluate what you don't measure," she said. "States just aren't collecting the kind of data needed to perform a rigorous analysis of how state legislation is affecting metal theft rates, one way or the other."
The study recommends state leaders continue to discuss ways to solve the metal theft problem. It concludes that how states begin to collect the necessary data to evaluate their policies will be the key to resolving the problem.
"Moving forward, it is unlikely data will be available in the future on a scale necessary to perform meaningful analysis unless a widespread effort is launched to create systems at the local, state and national levels to document, track and report metal theft crime uniformly and consistently," said Burnett.
To read the report, visit the CSG Knowledge Center.



The Council of State Governments is our nation’s only organization serving all three branches of state government. CSG is a region-based forum that fosters the exchange of insights and ideas to help state officials shape public policy. This offers unparalleled regional, national and international opportunities to network, develop leaders, collaborate and create problem-solving partnerships.