Baltimore police lean on 'metal men' to ensure junk transactions are clean Collectors need $5 permit; dealers must record buys


Baltimore police have begun to enforce old city laws regulating junk collectors and dealers to crack down on the illegal sale of pilfered metal.

The police action is fueled in part by city housing officials who are seeking to stop the surge of people invading vacant houses and stealing plumbing, furnaces and other costly materials.

Police now require that junk collectors buy a $5 permit and that licensed junk dealers fill out a form for recording items purchased from their customers.

Police said they hope these measures, which apply to Baltimore only, will bring uniformity to the reporting procedures practiced by local dealers and help identify and track the so-called "metal men" who earn a living by selling used metal.

"It's a lot better. You don't have to worry about getting caught, and the police don't bother you if you got [a permit]," said collector Larry Prout, 39, as he was leaving Modern Junk and Salvage Co. on North Fremont Avenue near Presstman Street.

For the past six months this "metal man" has made daily trips to the salvage company, selling as much as $75 worth of aluminum cans, copper and metal per day.

Prout is one of the estimated 200 people who have purchased permits in the past month. The document includes a permit number, photo, fingerprints and address.

Police met in June with dealers to discuss enforcement of the laws. Dealers complained about the deluge of paperwork and about being held responsible for the problem of stolen property. Police gave them and collectors until Thursday to comply.

"It's not an accusatory situation. This is just ensuring that there is regulation and accountability," said Maj. Barry Powell, head of the Property Crimes Unit.

Some dealers remain concerned about the impact enforcement will have on business.

"I don't know what I'm supposed to do half the time," said Joe Brightman, who for 19 years has operated Modern Junk and Salvage Co. in West Baltimore.

Brightman said he also fears he will lose a majority of his commercial contract customers to surrounding counties with more lenient regulations.

Although the law has long prohibited the sale of metal wiring, pipes and plumbing fixtures by anyone other than licensed demolition contractors, houses were being stripped and the contents sold.

"It became more and more difficult to encourage good landlords and renovators to get involved in renovating property," said Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III.

For the past year, unsuccessful attempts have been made to solve the problem, such as using security guards and fencing off vacant houses.

"Metal is a big commodity out there, and it can bring big money today," said Detective Charles McLaughlin of the Pawn Shop Unit.

Reports in recent years of employee embezzlement and companies stealing material also prompted the increased enforcement effort, McLaughlin said.

Police plan periodic inspections of junk dealers to ensure the laws are being followed. Violators are subject to $500 fines.

A committee of licensed dealers, their attorneys and police officials is continuing to meet to address concerns.

Pub Date: 8/03/96

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