Scrap Metal Bandits Hit News Boxes

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By Allen Houston and Sean Creamer

The Upper West Side's newspaper boxes are under assault by a group of pernicious scrap metal bandits. In January 2012, the West Side Spirit had 17 of its metal boxes stolen from locations between 59th and 96th Street on the West Side. AM New York was even more heavily hit, losing 70 boxes, mainly along Broadway, since December. Metro New York had 45 of their boxes swiped. The boxes retail for roughly $240 and can be sold for up to $60 in scrap.

Upper West Side Council Member Gail Brewer has heard so many complaints about disappearing news boxes and other scrap metal that she wrote a letter to Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway on Feb. 2 asking him to look into the disappearance of newspaper boxes as well as city trash cans or "litter baskets."

"These thefts waste taxpayer money and can affect the quality of life and health of residents," she wrote. "I am sure that the Upper West Side is not the only neighborhood impacted by these losses."

Brewer said that an unusual combination of factors has made this situation more high-profile than most cases.

"You've got the freedom of press being infringed on. The rising cost of scrap metal and recycling is making street furniture theft a more common occurrence in the city."

Anthony, a circulation director at AM New York who didn't want to give his last name, said the thefts first occurred around the holidays in December.

"That's when we started seeing them," he said. The majority of news boxes were taken from the Upper West Side, but there were also some taken from Lexington Avenue.

Joseph Lauletta, circulation director for Metro U.S., said in an email that so many of that paper's boxes had been stolen that they were thinking of moving to plastic ones.

"We're losing a couple a week now," he wrote.

Brewer said she has also received complaints about metal trash cans being stolen from street corners, but the city Department of Sanitation said that it wasn't aware that any litter baskets had been stolen from the Upper West Side. A spokesperson for the Parks Department said two trash cans disappeared from Riverside Park in the last year, but he wasn't able to say whether they had been stolen or moved to a different area.

Scrap metal is a hot property right now. Prices for metals have risen dramatically since 2008, according to the Institute of Scrap Metal Industries. Multiple calls to the 20th Precinct to discuss scrap metal theft weren't returned in time for print.

"Most publicized scrap thefts are copper, but anything can be scrapped," said Gary Bush, director of materials theft prevention for the organization. Bush, a former Florida law enforcement officer, has over 30 years' experience in scrap metal theft.

Laws vary from state to state regarding the sale of scrap metal. In New York, scrap metal processors are required to photocopy a person's license if they bring in over $50 worth of material, while New Jersey requires that scrap metal businesses keep records of all specific purchases and the identity of those they bought from.

Bush said that owners of high-value metals such as copper should be particularly diligent in making sure that the metal is protected.

"Thieves will go after the quick, fast and easy-to-sell materials," he said.

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