How to know when a law isn’t working

Determining whether some laws are working generally takes a fair amount of research. But when an apartment complex explodes, you pretty much have your answer about whether the state’s attempts to discourage copper theft are working. They’re not, otherwise apartment buildings wouldn’t be exploding.

Thomas Deegan, the manager of Minneapolis’ Problem Properties Unit, speculated last spring that up to 20 percent of the city’s vacant buildings have had their copper pipes ripped out.

On Sunday, the apartment complex in north Minneapolis exploded and arson investigators say copper thieves are the reason. Last March, a house on Colfax also exploded because of a gas leak. It, too, was vacant.

In 2007, the Minnesota Legislature tightened restrictions on scrap metal dealers, by requiring scrap metal dealers to keep records of their metal purchases.

But copper pipes are still being stolen, houses are still blowing up, and somebody is paying the thieves for the copper with impunity.

  • bigalmn

    I brought some steel into the scrap yard about 6 months ago and my guess is that the yards are capturing the sellers information, but it would be almost impossible to determine a thief from a legitimate seller.

    In a room full of people, I would guess at least 25 at the time I was there, all they do is copy your drivers license and give you a check. Many of the people are repeat customers, because they are dealers themselves or they pick up scrap where they can find it. I see one very easy way for a criminals to make this work and there are probably many other ways.

    First, who says that this is not a real home remodeler gone bad. Since the economy has gone south this group is low on business and maybe they are adding to their income by selling the copper.

    They also could be buying it from the thieves and reselling. It would not be unusual to see them at the yard because as they remodel they would be taking their scrap there anyway.

    Some how we never hear of these guys getting blown up when they are stealing the copper so they are likely shutting off the gas and/or water, stealing the pipe and then turning on the gas and water on again to cover their tracks.

    Secondly, you have a group of people cutting out large amounts of pipe, but I have never read of anyone being caught in the act. Other thieves are caught with stereos and TVs in their cars.

    What might be interesting is to put some webcams in vacant houses near where the thieves hit and see if they can be spotted in the act. That is what a lady did when she suspected her neighbor of watching porn on her TV. She caught him.

    Basically this points to these thefts not getting a high enough priority to be solved. When they are thieves will be caught.

  • Bob Collins

    Down in Mississippi, one of the rules they have is that the scrap dealers have to keep the scrap for three days before they can do anything with it, AND they don’t pay the person for it for three days.

    They’ve tried to get the law overturned because they say they don’t have the space to store the stuff.

  • Al

    Stealing the copper pipes out of houses never made a lot of sense to me. We had all the pipes and water heater in our North MPLS home completely replaced about 2 years ago for under $2,000 (copper prices were high then too). Since big parts of the cost were in the water heater and labor, that doesn’t leave a huge sum for the copper pipes. When you consider that to steal the pipes you’re going to have to do a considerable amount of work and take it away in decent sized, easy to identify vehicle, this crime doesn’t seem worth it. If you’re going to do all that work with all the risk and not make much, why not just get a job?

  • bigalmn

    Just checked the scrap metal price on copper online and it is about $3 per pound. If you can get 100 lbs out of a house and do it in less than an hour, that is a pretty good wage for someone who may not be employable elsewhere. The problem for police is that it is a $300 crime that hurts no one in most cases so it does not become a priority when they don’t even have enough time to find killers out there.

  • Plumberhelper

    If you’re talking about a raised foundation house, one could craw in after dark with a pair of tubing cutters and go to town. The cutters are quiet, while a sawzall would attract attention. Also, copper is easily bent into any shape, so you wouldn’t have all these pipes sticking out of the back of a track. All you would need is a dark mini van. My one of my co-workers has family who have had the copper stolen out of one of their vacant rental properties.