Cincinnati approved tough new restrictions Wednesday on metal sales in a measure aimed at curbing theft problems — such as the case of a former crematory worker accused of dumping human ashes and selling the urns for scrap.
The City Council voted 5-4 for rules that legislative experts say will be among the nation’s strictest. They require frequent sellers to obtain licenses, pass criminal background checks and wait two days to get paid.
Supporters said they are trying to deter would-be thieves by making it more difficult for them to sell stolen scrap. High prices for copper and other metals, combined with a struggling economy, have spurred metal thefts locally and globally. Frequent scrap metal sellers will have to pay up to $400 a year for licenses.
“It’s a first step in the effort to really get a better handle on this issue,” councilman Cecil Thomas said.
Police say up to 40 percent of break-ins in the city are linked to scrap metal theft, costing millions in losses and property damage as thieves rip away air conditioners, plumbing and cables from homes and businesses.
Opponents say the move is an overreaction that will hurt honest metal vendors and dealers, send legitimate sales outside the city, and undermine recycling efforts. Some residents have said they depend on “scrapping” metal they obtain legitimately to support their families during tough times.
Two councilmen predicted Wednesday the rules won’t stop the theft problems.
“It’s going to give people false hope,” said Charlie Winburn, who ripped the ordinance as anti-business.
Councilman Chris Smitherman called the new rules invasive for requiring people to seek city permission to sell their scrap metal, and he also expressed concern that the requirement they be paid by check will feed payday loan businesses.
Supporters of the requirement to make sellers wait two days to be paid by check, instead of cash, say that will slow down drug users who steal scrap to sell quickly to buy drugs.
Thomas also said the city hopes nearby local governments will adopt similar rules to prevent metal stolen in Cincinnati from being sold elsewhere. He said the city of Hamilton has already contacted Cincinnati for information about the rules.
He also cited the latest case as proof of the need for restrictions. A former crematory employee was arrested Tuesday on charges he stole 20 bronze urns, including three with ashes inside that he dumped before selling them for scrap.
Seventeen of the urns were new, valued at more than $20,000 total. No information was available on how much he got for the scrap sales.