A new law requiring buyers and sellers of non-ferrous scrap metals to obtain state permits has kept officials in the Horry County Sheriff's office busier than they expected to be.
The law that went into effect August 17 is an effort to cut down on copper thefts in the state.
Cpl. Steve Causey, who heads the permitting effort in Horry County, said Thursday that at least 2,000 people have expressed interest in applying for permits in Horry County since the law went into effect. Of those, 1,525 have been issued 12-month permits and 235 people have been issued 48-hour permits. About 25 to 30 people still come in every day to apply for the permits, Causey said.
Causey said the law gives police another tool to use to prevent copper thefts, by requiring permit applicants to hand over personal information to authorities before they can buy or sell the metal. "So if we find an occasion where someone is selling stolen non-ferrous metals, which we have had that happen, and using a permit to do that, we have the information to track straight back to them," Causey said.
Sheriff's deputies have already made two arrests under the new law and a couple of other cases are under investigation, Causey said.
One of the arrests involved a couple who allegedly stole about $85 worth of scrap copper from one local recycler, successfully obtained a permit to sell the metal and then tried to sell it at another recycling company. After the first recycler informed Causey about the theft, Causey tipped off other recyclers in the area to be on the lookout for the stolen items. That same day, the thieves were arrested within an hour of trying to sell the stolen scrap, he said, due to information they provided to the county on their permit application.
Causey said because the new law is a felony level offense, the woman who obtained the permit could receive a stiffer sentence than her boyfriend who actually stole the scrap metal.
Chief Deputy Paul Butler said the sheriff's office made implementation of the new law a priority, which meant bringing staff up to speed in a hurry. Butler said the county didn't receive any rules from the state about how to implement the new law until a few weeks before it went into effect and the state provided no funds to pay for it.
Butler said the sheriff's office could not have anticipated the high level of public interest in the permitting process. "The people who have been involved have done an incredible job taking care of over 2,000 people who have walked through the sheriff's office door requesting permits and we took it from just 3 short months ago where a system did not exist," Butler said.