Police plan crackdown on sales of scrap Junk dealers express dismay when informed of use of old city laws

June 21, 1996|By Alex Gordon | Alex Gordon,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police are blowing the dust off laws that have been on the books for 70 years -- though inconsistently enforced -- governing junk collectors and junk dealers, in an escalating crackdown on the illegal sale of metal wiring and plumbing stripped from vacant houses.

At a meeting yesterday at headquarters, police met with more than 20 licensed junk metal dealers to inform them of the department's intent to aggressively enforce these laws beginning July 1.

Many of the junk dealers voiced distress and bewilderment at the announcement. The laws to be enforced, they say, are antiquated and unreasonable for their operations.

Because of the opposition, police will delay enforcement until Aug. 1.

A key provision prohibits the sale of metal wiring, pipes and plumbing fixtures by anyone other than licensed demolition contractors. Another section requires junk dealers to tag all items and store them a minimum of 10 days.

Under the law, for instance, so-called "Dumpster divers" who retrieve discarded fixtures from public receptacles are not permitted to sell them to city junk dealers. Restrictions such as this, dealers say, will put a crimp in their business.

In conjunction with the announced enforcement of the laws, police will issue new $5 permits for prospective collectors beginning next week. The permits will include a permit number, photo, fingerprint and address. Medallions will be issued for people transporting the junk on vehicles.

"There will be headaches in some aspects, but the bottom line is that the laws are on the books," said Detective Charles McLaughlin. "We realize the laws are old, but the Police Department cannot do anything about that. Our job is to strictly enforce the laws."

Such a rationale did little to calm the anxiety of the dealers, who say their business will suffer significantly as a result of enforced restrictions and a deluge of paperwork. The strict enforcement of the laws and the permits apply only to Baltimore and not to the surrounding counties.

"We could lose a lot of our customers to the counties," said Neal Shapiro, treasurer of Cambridge Iron and Metal, a business begun by his grandfather in 1909. "These laws are unfairly putting the burden of responsibility on us."

McLaughlin indicated that the strict enforcement would extend to all collectors. Even those who simply collect and sell aluminum cans -- with the exception of churches and the Boy Scouts -- must obtain a permit.

The meeting was regularly interrupted by dealers who raised questions and opposition to the police decision to enforce laws that have been selectively applied over the years.

"The Police Department should be working to solve the problem rather than swat the fly with an ax, which is what you're doing," said Franklin Goldstein, attorney for the Seaboard chapter of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, which represents the scrap dealers. "The easiest thing to do is enforce the laws on the backs of others, but it is irresponsible to ignore these legitimate businesses in Baltimore."

Goldstein argued that the Police Department should have worked with the junk dealers as it developed the new permit procedures and decided to enforce the laws so literally -- rather than informing them after the fact. The junk dealers were notified last week of yesterday's meeting.

Goldstein and the dealers persuaded police to meet to try to reach a mutually satisfying solution. But some junk dealers were pessimistic.

"Some of these laws, like tagging everything that we buy, are physically and economically impossible," said Brian Dashoff, president of Titus Recycling. "I will move to the county if I have to."

Pub Date: 6/21/96

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