In their frenzy for metal, thieves will steal the gutters and downspouts from your house, plaques from the cemetery, even guardrails from the side of the road. In fact, it’s a recent rash of thefts of manhole covers from streets in Salem and Peabody that is highlighting the continuing effort to change laws to discourage this kind of crime.
This past week, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a bill filed by Salem Rep. John Keenan and Salem Sen. Joan Lovely that would increase penalties for defacing historic homes by stealing the copper gutters, wiring and other valuable parts. In addition to paying fines ($100 to $1,000) and possibly serving prison terms, thieves would be required to make full restitution to homeowners.
It’s a bill of particular interest on the North Shore, with its treasure trove of historic houses, and inspired in part by the experiences of Salem resident Neil Chayet, whose lovingly restored historic home was robbed of its gutters, not once but twice.
Thefts of manhole covers would be dealt with under a different bill, originally filed by Danvers state Rep. Ted Speliotis, that would make it illegal for scrap-metal dealers to accept items that honest citizens could not be expected to come by legally — manhole covers, historic markers, bleachers from athletic fields, traffic signs and the like. Among its other provisions, the bill would require metal dealers to keep the kinds of detailed records now mandated for pawn shops.
This bill seemed on track to become law after it was first filed in 2011, but it never made it through the entire legislative process. It was refiled in January.
The problem of metal thefts is not the biggest issue facing the commonwealth, but it’s one that has been growing, and it’s time to do something about it. Anyone who’s discovered a marker missing from the grave of a loved one, or a hole in the street where you were just about to step, knows this is about more than money.
We commend our local legislators for being in the forefront of this effort and urge them to keep up the pressure to see these enacted into law.