Bill would hike penalties for scrap metal thefts

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — The city of Reno lost more than $100,000 last year from scrap metal thefts — and it wasn't alone.

Cities across Nevada detailed similar problems on Wednesday to lawmakers considering a bill to increase penalties for such crimes.

Officials from Henderson, North Las Vegas, Las Vegas and Reno all testified in support of SB37 before the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which took no action.

"These problems are an indication of our times," said Cadence Matijevich, assistant city manager of Reno. "People are desperate and looking for materials they can turn and sell for a quick profit."

Current law classifies scrap metal theft based on the monetary value of the stolen material, with possible penalties including fines, prison time and community service.

In general, the thefts are considered misdemeanors if the value is less than $650. If it exceeds $650 but is less than $3,500, it's a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. A thief who takes more than $3,500 could land behind bars for 10 years.

The bill under consideration by the Assembly mandates 100 hours of community service for a first offense, 200 hours for a second offense, and 300 hours for third and subsequent violations.

Previous legislation that increased penalties for stealing copper — one of the more valuable scrap metals — has done little to curtail the problem, Matijevich said.

Of Reno's $103,000 in losses last year, $27,000 came from a single incident when thieves took copper wiring from a downtown railroad trench, Matijevich said.

Oftentimes, material is stolen from functioning utilities, causing problems for the community, Matijevich said. For example, irrigation backflow grates have been stolen from parks on numerous occasions, leading to flooding.

"We've had to close down parks and play areas," Matijevich said.

The community service requirements mandated under the proposed bill are tied to the effects of the crimes, she said.

The problems are not isolated to cities. A park in Washoe Valley had all its sprinklers — each costing about $10 — stolen in two consecutive years, Washoe County sheriff's Lt. Eric Spratley told committee members.

The crime resulted in the cancellation of children's soccer games because the fields were flooded.

"It's a huge ripple effect across the county and we're tired of it," Spratley said.

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