Copper cops on patrol in Trenton

February 25, 2008 3:59:24 PM PST
Copper Cops is a task force in Trenton that is tracking down thieves who take a shine to copper and other metals.It's become a nationwide trend. Thieves are targeting construction sites, abandoned homes and even cell phone towers to steal copper, aluminum and other metals for scrap.

"They can steal it from a construction site, bring it here, and make a few dollars. If they're drug addicts or alcoholics or whatever, that's a fast buck to get them a bottle or a fix," Jay Ball of Trenton said.

The thieves are motivated because copper brings big bucks.

It's gotten bad enough that Trenton Police formed a task force in December nicknamed the copper cops. They've made over 20 arrests including five this past weekend and are actively searching for 48-year-old Allan Fink, who they say is responsible for a string of copper and metal burglaries.

Cops are cracking down, too, on scrap metal dealers. They've charged the owner of Trenton Iron and Metal on Enterprise Avenue with receiving and fencing stolen property after $35,000 worth of metal was scrapped for several hundred dollars.

"Everybody knows what's going on. They can indicate that they're ignorant to the fact, but I think, if we have to scare them straight that's what we intend to do," Trenton Police Director Joseph Santiago said.

"If somebody comes in with a truckload of all new copper, it puts up a red flag," John Scarpati, Jr. of Scarpati Recycling said.

At Scarpati Recycling, customers must sign a voucher saying the scrap metal they're selling isn't stolen and must produce a valid ID, which is copied.

Police are pushing for stricter standards including verifiable proof of origin, forcing scrap dealers to keep a database, and prohibiting them from buying things like manhole covers, street signs and unused construction material.