© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Kansas City Proposes Crackdown On Scrap Metal Dealers

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3
An unidentified man carries copper pipe in a bag to Wabash Iron and Metal near 19th and Troost. The owners of Wabash argued against a proposed ordinance that would impose tougher regulations on scrap metal businesses in Kansas City.

It's rare that one industry can confound police, firefighters and neighborhood groups. But businesses in Kansas City that recycle scrap metal did just that Wednesday at a packed city council committee hearing.

“The single largest cause of blight in the urban core of Kansas City is the recycling centers,” lawyer Gregg Lombardi told the Neighborhood and Public Safety Committee.

Lombardi, who heads a nonprofit law firm called Neighborhood Legal Support of Kansas City Inc., said scrap metal dealers encourage people to break into houses and rip out wiring and pipes.

“They are effectively paying people to steal scrap metal from these houses,” he said.

The city is proposing to crack down on scrap metal dealers by prohibiting them from making cash payments and requiring them to pay by check or debit card after a three-day waiting period. People with scrap would be limited to one trip per day to a particular yard. Cars brought in without titles would have to be photographed.

The industry pushed back.

“Our business is straightforward, honest. We have a great customer base,” Sanford Levine, of KC Iron & Metal, told the committee.

Out-of-town contractors often have so much scrap they have to make multiple trips per day, Levine said, noting that the proposal would be espcially hard on contractors brought in to raze KCI and build a new airport terminal.

“You’re punishing the masses of innocents," he said. 

Pam Breckinridge, of Wabash Iron and Metal, asked: “Who makes somebody wait three days when they have sold a piece of equipment?" 

Northeast residents argued for the proposal.

"Every time I leave my house I see them pushing shopping carts, strollers, carrying backpacks, suitcases, all methods of ways they transport the stolen metal,” said Robert Ontman, who lives in the neighborhood and rehabilitates houses there. “They’re hitting churches. They’re hitting mosques. Jumping up on the roofs and just tearing off the A/C and throwing them off over the edge and taking off.”

The fire department says hydrants are being vandalized and has responded to dozens of fires set by scrappers who were burning insulation off copper wire.

KCP&L says it has lost $100,000 in copper wire so far this year and lost twice that much in 2017.

And police have their own unique scrap metal problem.

In 2012, the General Assembly made it legal to scrap an inoperable car that's 10 years or older without having a title to the vehicle.

“The removal of the requirement to show a title led to a huge increase in auto theft, not only in Missouri but in other states as well,” the Missouri Highway Patrol's Cpl. Nate Bradley told the committee. Since 2011, he said, there has been a 61 percent spike in stolen cars in Kansas City alone.

Police have also seen a new scrap scam involving a kind of triple play.

Someone will buy a 10-year-old car, take out full insurance coverage and use the title to get a loan. Then he'll sell the car to a scrap dealer who shreds the car into tiny metal bits. With no title, there's no record of who owned the vehicle.

“They’ve already pocketed the money from the title loan. They sell the vehicle for shred knowing that the vehicle is going to be disintegrated never to be seen again," Bradey said. "Then they call the police and report the car stolen” to collect the insurance money.

Scrap industry representative complained that dealers had only recently had a chance to look at the proposed ordinance and wanted more time to study it.

Committee members agreed and said they would take up the issue again after Labor Day.

Sam Zeff is KCUR's Metro Reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make non-profit journalism available for everyone.