© 2022 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
88.5 FM KMST Rolla is currently experiencing technical difficulties.

Dispute over method of payment delays first vote on scrap metal

(Screen capture via Google Maps)
The First Unitarian Church in the Central West End has been hit by copper thieves five times in three months. Aldermen on Wednesday delayed voting on new restrictions on scrap dealers in the city.

Scrap yard owners, the police, and St. Louis city aldermen have a week to hammer out a deal on legislation the city's police department says will cut down on the rising number of metal thefts in the area.

The legislation would put several new restrictions on the owners of scrap yards, including:

  • Requiring a check for all purchases. Current state law allows cash for amounts under $500. In the city, every transaction would have to be done with a check.
  • Scrap owners would have to hold the material for three days before mailing the check
  • Preventing scrap yard owners from buying HVAC materials unless the person bringing in the metal also has a statement that the air conditioner (or parts) were decommissioned and removed in accordance with EPA requirements
  • Keeping the information they're already required to collect from sellers by law (name, address, telephone number, photo ID, etc) in an electronic database.

Alderman Donna Baringer said she'd considered lowering that threshold - but couldn't determine a "perfect" level.

"Those are the people who are going to go to every single scrap yard, and whatever the dollar amount is, they're going to go to each one of those scrap yards and do just that amount," she said.

Police call the check requirement crucial because it eliminates the instant gratification that metal thieves, many of whom are heroin addicts, are seeking.

But it's causing angst for scrap yard owners. They say without a statewide change, their customers will go across the river or into the county with material, and they'll lose business.

And Alycia Green, who collects scrap metal she finds in alleys, says it'll hurt people who need cash instantly for other reasons. She told the Public Safety committee this morning that when she was six months pregnant and homeless, she was able to eat by scrapping a donated air conditioner.

"I wasn't going to the food stamp office," she said. "I'm not a dope fiend. I'm not a thief. The city of St. Louis has the most unbanked African-Americans of of all the major metropolitan cities.  If we've got copper, you want to write us a check? We're unbanked!"

The chair of the public safety committee gave Baringer a week to work out a deal. She says she's considering dropping the requirement that dealers hold the material for three days.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.