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Shaw Recycling in Bauxite was temporarily shut down by local authorities on Monday and owner Bobby Shaw was issued multiple citations for failing to maintain records of scrap metal sales.
Local law enforcement agencies and state Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton held a press conference at the gate of the business to explain why a search warrant was served there. The location is 2521 Bauxite Cutoff Road in Bauxite.
The incident is part of an effort to deter criminal activities with scrap metal theft, specifically theft of copper, which Benton Police Chief Kirk Lane said has "reached epidemic proportions."
"Hopefully what this will do is discourage criminals in the area," Saline County Sheriff Bruce Pennington said. "(Criminals) are tearing up property, whether it's homes under construction, air conditioner units at churches, schools, businesses, whereever they can get copper. It's a large problem. I know Pulaski County had more than a million dollars in copper theft last year and it was very high in Saline County as well."
He added, "By this type of operation today, though, it can slow them down."
Lt. Kevin Russell of the Benton Police Department added, "No one is immune to being a victim of scrap metal theft. That is the reason safeguards were enacted in the first place."
Pennington explained that in March of this year the Saline County Scrap Metal Task Force was formed and that the group consists of officers from the Benton Police Department, Saline County Sheriff's Office, Pulaski County Sheriff's Office, Bauxite Police Department, Internal Revenue Service, Union Pacific Railroad Police, Bryant Police Department and the Saline County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.
Part of the mission of the task force is to enforce Act 390 of 2009, a state law that requires thumbprints and proper identification of the scrap metal seller and a picture of the items being sold; and Act 1193 of 2011 that requires proper documentation of scrap metal sales, which makes the sale of scrap metal illegal if sellers don't have documentation on the origin of the metal and show they have permission to sell it.
"As far as achievement, it is a step in the right direction in curtailing theft offenses," said Hammer, who sponsored Act 1193. "Today is evidence that (Act 1193) can be put to good use. It is a tool to use to identify activities and put (criminals) out of business. The thieves have to have a place to sell it and hopefully (Act 1193) will weed out the legitimate businesses."
Russell said that authorities have received numerous complaints from residents concerning the business practices at Shaw Recycling and these led to an investigation. About 1:30 p.m. on Monday, the task force served a warrant at Shaw Recycling, where officers examined record books and inspected the acres of scrap metal.
Pennington said not only did officers discover that the business was breaking the law with the record books, they also discovered "suspicious materials." He said officers are continuing to investigate to see if the suspicious items are stolen.
"If it is a lack of education by (Shaw Recycling), then they got an education today," Pennington said. "Things weren't on the up and up here. They weren't in compliance with the law."
Just before the press conference, 34-year-old Shaw was handed 34 citations for failure to maintain records. There could also be more citations written to Shaw employees as the investigation continues, Pennington said.
Hammer also said during the press conference that at the next legislative session he will re-examine issues concerning scrap metal thefts in the state.
"We need to look at this as a regional issue too, because (criminals) may end up taking the scrap metal across state lines," he said. "I fully expect the subject to be revisited."