Aluminum Foiled: City Leaders, Metals Industry Looking for Middle Ground in Solution to Outrageous Metal Thefts

Last week's theft of the Point of Pines World War II memorial plaque has become the straw that has broken the camel's back in the local fight against scrap metal theft. It's just one of several high-profile cases in Revere this year.

The situation with metal thefts in Revere is becoming quite heavy.

With the theft last week of a treasured World War II memorial in the Point of Pines, things have come to a head and members of the community and Police Chief Terence Reardon are calling for immediate reforms.

“Not only is that World War II plaque gone, but the very plaque that’s been there since the 1940s is gone,” said Carol Haney, a Pines resident who helped refurbish the plaque less than one year ago. “All those men listed on that plaque gave their lives for their country and some idiot comes along and steals it. What do you think they got for it? Twenty bucks? It’s really heartbreaking for me…They’ve got to be the lowest of the low. If they needed 10 bucks that bad I would have given it to them.”

Said Reardon, “It’s beyond frustrating about what’s being taken and how it’s being taken now and nothing is being done to address it. It’s very, very frustrating to me personally.”

Pushed by a lucrative market for scrap metals that exists now – with copper and aluminum going for near-record prices – metal theft has become a new problem that has been very hard to deal with. In Revere, the problem has become nearly laughable.

Earlier this year, a life-size bronze statue of a little girl was stolen from in front of the Revere Public Library – shocking the City. Later, pieces of the statue were found in the garage of a Yeamans Street man who had hacked it up and was planning to sell it for scrap.

Late last year, metal thieves made their way into the shuttered Wonderland Dog Track and removed large amounts of copper piping, leaving a huge flood on the property.

The culprits were also local Revere men who had been removing the copper piping to sell for scrap.

A few years ago, a DPW worker and some janitors in the School Department were also caught trying to sell excess metal for scrap – metals that belonged to the City.

It has all boiled down to one big problem that most everyone is looking to the state to fix. However, finding the perfect balance has been difficult up to this point, with Massachusetts being one of the only states not to have scrap metal dealer regulations.

Melissa Merz of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) in Washington, D.C., said that the scrap metal industry is very concerned about this problem, and most support regulation, but they cannot support some measures that would be harmful to their business.

“We are part of the solution and not part of the problem,” said Merz. “Any legitimate recycler has no interest in taking a war memorial or a grave marker. We want to help stop these things.”

Merz indicated that ISRI has started a nationwide database in which police can report stolen metals and scrap dealers can check for them. It’s called Scrap Theft Alert, and Revere Police are part of the network.

Meanwhile, in Everett, Colin Kelly of Schnitzer Steel Industries said that they want to help Revere solve the problem.

He said they want to require driver’s licenses to be shown during a sale. They want cars to be photographed. They also want to have letters of authorization required for the disposal of all war memorials, sewer grates, manhole covers and grave markers.

“We are waiting for the state to require us to ask for an ID and to take some common sense actions,” said Kelly. “Once you have to put that ID up there by law, then these guys trying to sell this stuff are going to be running scared. We want to work with law enforcement and we want to solve this issue.”

All those restrictions are contained in a bill put forth by State Rep. Vincent Pedone of Worcester. Kelly said that his company and ISRI’s New England Chapter supports that bill and hopes that it passes.

However, one of the more popular proposals out there is by Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is calling for a 12-day tag and hold on all scrap metal purchases.

“That is the death pill for scrap recycling and it will send us to New Hampshire and Rhode Island,” said Kelly. “Tag and hold says that anything you take in you have to put in a corner for 12 days. That doesn’t work in the scrap business. Many law enforcement loop us in with pawnbrokers…We can’t support tag and hold for all metals. Where will we put it all? I operate on 26 acres in Everett and I would need five times that to comply with tag and hold. We have no problem with tag and hold for specific or suspicious items, though.”

Kelly added, “We take this issue very, very seriously too, and we do frequently work with law enforcement to solve metal theft cases.”

In Revere, Chief Reardon and Haney said they hope that some compromise can be found because the thieves are not letting up.

“We don’t want [recyclers] to be the enemy,” said Haney. “We want to work with them. However, the ones that  are accepting this kind of metal – an obvious old war memorial – are lower than the thieves in my book.”

There are no leads in the theft of the Pines War Memorial. All that’s left of it now is a faceless granite block decorated with flowers.

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