Undercover 4 On Your Side investigation seeks city metal thieves

Posted at: 11/20/2013 10:00 PM
Updated at: 11/20/2013 10:24 PM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Law enforcement admits that metal thieves, who steal manhole covers and sewer grates, cost not only taxpayers their money but also their personal safety.

The thieves are bad enough, but investigators said buyers of the stolen metal perpetuate the problems.

4 On Your Side conducted an undercover investigation in the last week after someone stole a bunch of steel water meter covers near 58th and Fortuna Streets southwest of downtown Albuquerque.  The team wanted to know if scrap metal recyclers across New Mexico were abiding by the rules.

In July 2012, the state effectively made the purchase of public metals – including manhole covers and sewer grates – illegal.

Prior to that, Albuquerque police said they had a serious problem.

“There had been a rash of thefts,” Sgt. Mizel Garcia, with APD’s Organized Crime Unit, said.

But since the new laws went into effect, he said his department assigned a detective to metal theft full-time.  He said the detective inspects each scrap metal yard at least once per year.

“Just to ensure compliance,” Sgt. Garcia said.

Over the course of a few days, 4 On Your Side tested to see if the new efforts have paid off.

Shawn, one of KOB’s behind-the-scenes employees, served as the would-be metal thief.  Outfitted with a manhole cover and sewer grate on loan from the city of Albuquerque, placed in the back of a relatively worn pick-up truck belonging to KOB’s engineers, Shawn offered to sell the metal to more than a dozen metal recyclers.

4 On Your Side documented the conversations between Shawn and the metal recyclers via a GoPro camera placed in a shoulder bag in the bed of the truck.

Every metal recycler – in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Espanola – declined to purchase the manhole cover.  In fact, one of them nearly called police.

The sewer grate – which weighs a few hundred pounds and does not have any obvious city markings – was a different story.  Three metal recyclers offered to weigh it.  One of them quoted our team nine cents per pound.

Sgt. Garcia said that Albuquerque Police have asked other law enforcement agencies – outside of the city and Bernalillo County – to cooperate with them and be on the lookout for Albuquerque city metal.

He was pleased with the results of the 4 On Your Side investigation.

“I feel very good about that.  If I would have seen anything different, that would have probably meant we had to increase our efforts,” he said.