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How paint can help curb metal theft in Roseville

Local, state authorities get aggressive on ‘plaguing’ issue
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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Stripped catalytic converters and disappearing water backflow devices have become one of the most dominant crime trends in the city of Roseville, though law enforcement has new plans to battle the phenomenon — and it involves a can of spray paint.

On Tuesday, Oct. 16, State Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, Roseville Mayor Pauline Roccucci, Roseville Police Chief Daniel Hahn and Water Utility Manager Ed Kriz held a press conference at the Maidu Center to discuss legislation that might slow the city’s ongoing problems with metal theft, as well as local plans to detour the most expensive forms of the crime.

For Roseville, the summer of 2012 saw hundreds of catalytic converters stolen — sawed or ripped off the bottoms of trucks and SUVs, usually at night while victims were sleeping. At the same time, both the city of Roseville and local business owners have suffered tens of thousands of dollars in damages from water backflow devices being stolen.

In July, Roseville police detectives said a number of regional scrap yards were adding to the problem by refusing to follow laws designed to prevent businesses from purchasing suspected stolen metal. Around the same time, the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office brought felony charges against the owners of River City Waste Recyclers, which owns five separate scrap yards in Sacramento County. River City's owners, along with several employees, are accused of receiving known stolen property.

Such cases continuing across California have proven to State Sen. Bill Emmerson that the laws passed in 2008 are riddled with loopholes for thieves and dishonest recyclers to exploit. Emmerson recently wrote senate bills 1045 and 1387, one of which stops recyclers from buying items that automatically signal suspicion — including manhole covers, fire hydrants or irrigation pumps — and the other holds recyclers liable in civil court for damages to victims of metal theft crimes.

“I’ve heard from many constituents on this issue,” Gaines told the gathering. “One constituent told me he’d had his catalytic converter stolen from his vehicle while he was on his lunch break, and when he took it to the mechanic for repair, the mechanic said he was fixing five vehicles a week from this crime.”

Gaines was a strong supporter of SB 1045 and SB 1387, both of which were recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. The assemblywoman pointed out that the new laws will be most effective when coupled with proactive measures by local cities.

For Hahn, that means coming up with simple ways to trace stolen items, particularly water backflow devices.

“In this climate it’s tough enough to run a business,” Hahn said. “When you show up to your business in the morning and find you have no water, how many businesses can even stay open? The repairs cost the business owners on average $1,500, all so the suspect can get $50 in cash. The impact of these thieves stealing this metal is tremendous.”

According to representatives from the city, stripped water backflow devices have accounted for more than $100,000 in damages to city-owned properties, as well as private business owners. 

Kriz noted that the theft of backflow devices also allows for the contamination of drinking water.

The plan Kriz, Hahn and other city leaders have come up with is spray-painting water backflow devices a distinct forest green color, allowing recyclers to instantly know they are stolen from the Roseville area. Additionally, the paint will help property crimes detectives from various police departments to prove when scrap yard owners are harboring stolen property.

“We have to be able to connect stolen metal items with the actual victims to have a case,” Hahn said. “Painting backflow devices helps get our cases to the District Attorney’s Office.”

Roseville Water Utility will be painting all city-owned backflow devices and strongly encourages local business owners to follow suit.

Hahn said collaborative efforts between police, city leaders and area business owners resulted in a 7 percent reduction of property crime in Roseville in 2011, and that the new prevention program offers another chance to try to move in that direction.