Metal theft is a huge problem in the Valley, leaving churches, schools and vacant buildings vulnerable. But one police agency has a pretty creative solution to beat the crooks, and they're going high-tech for this one.
If a thief steals, say, copper from an air conditioning unit, he or she can take it apart and sell it to several different scrap metal yards. That can make it really hard for cops to track, but a website called Leads Online makes it a little easier.
"Once we get a suspect established, we always check them through Leads Online," said Sgt. Scott Walker, who works in the property crimes department of Glendale police. He calls metal thefts in the Valley an epidemic.
"That's one of the major property crimes that we deal with," he said. Glendale police said late last year, a vacant building was stripped of its copper. Detectives got a fingerprint, which came back as a match for a man named Joshua Molina, who was already in the system. So they looked him up on Leads Online, a database used by thousands of law enforcement agencies in 40 states.
"We'll get, under that individual's names, all the items they've scrapped and that'll tell us the dates and times," Walker said.
So how does it work? Well, say a scrap metal yard wants to do business in Glendale. If they buy more than $25 worth of metal, they have to take the seller's information, like their license plate number, photo ID and pictures of the metal they're selling. Then they have to put the information into Leads Online. So when detectives searched for Molina's name, they say they were able to connect him to the crime.
"The theft was between these dates and on this date you scrapped this amount of metal and that's approximately what was taken, and we can use that in court," he said.
"It's kind of been a word of mouth, as word gets out among the law enforcement community that they're solving crimes using this technology called Leads Online," said Lindsay Williams, a spokeswoman with the company. She said the company was started in 2000 and is based in Dallas. She said the Arizona Department of Public Safety has a contract with them, so all Arizona law enforcement can use it.
"If something is stolen in Phoenix and someone were to travel to Las Vegas or San Diego or anywhere in the country, there's a higher probability that that property is going to be recovered by law enforcement," she said,
Arizona DPS started requiring all scrap metal businesses to report to leads online one year ago. But Glendale police say the best way to prevent metal theft to begin with is securing your property and putting surveillance cameras up.
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