Aggressive scrap metal collectors steal from yards, some Winnipeggers say

Some people in Winnipeg say scrap collectors, who cruise alleys for metal items left out in the trash, are becoming aggressive and stealing from yards.

Police urge people to report thefts to help them identify crime trends in neighbourhoods

Elise Rea points to the spot where she kept her firepit before it was stolen in the past week. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Some people in Winnipeg say scrap collectors, who cruise alleys for metal items left in the trash, are becoming aggressive and stealing from yards.

Driven by high prices for metal, which can be cashed in for tax-free money, many scrap collectors pile up pickup trucks with material — patio tables, major appliances, bicycles, car parts — all held in by sheets of plywood surrounding the truck box.

"If they can make a buck off it, they'll take it if it's not nailed down, and that's sad," said Elise Rea, whose son had a metal-framed basketball stand swiped from their driveway in Transcona a little while ago.

It was against the fence, nowhere near the edge of the lane where the garbage bins go, she said.

More recently, someone came in the yard and took Rea's steel firepit and a metal shovel. Both were near her fence and shed, hidden from the lane by a bush.

Her kids discovered the theft when they went to roast marshmallows.

"If somebody leaves stuff by the garbage and it's clearly garbage, take it, but you don't go into people's properties to find things to take," she said, adding she has also chased scrap collectors away from her neighbours' yards.

'These guys are getting pretty aggressive'

One neighbour across the lane restores old cars while the guy next to him repairs muscle cars. As a result, there are often parts in the yards.

"Some of them are hard to get, especially when the cars are from the '50s and '60s," Rea said.

"I saw these guys way back in the yard, pulling things out. I went back there and was like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, what are you guys doing?' And he goes, 'Oh, we're just taking the metal.'

"I said, 'That is not scrap. It is not by the garbage. It is hidden far back in the yard.'"

One of Elise Rea's neighbours had to build an eight-foot-tall fence at the end of his garage to keep scrappers from combing through car parts he stores in his yard. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)
She told them to return it, along with everything else from the yards that was already in the truck. Since then, the neighbours have built an eight-foot-tall section of fence to block the view of their yards from the lane.

"Yeah, these guys are getting pretty aggressive," Doug Mckay wrote in a post on a community Facebook page for Elmwood and East Kildonan.

"I had an old Kaplan tent trailer on a rental property, sitting there for ~5 years. They knocked on the door and the tenant told them that they did not own the trailer and that they did not know who did. The trailer was gone three days later."

Gerry Mullan, responding to Mckay's post, said she caught the scrappers eyeing up her son's boat.

"I have to park my car sideways now" to protect the boat, she wrote.

One of Rea's neighbours, who didn't want to be named, said he had two rare bumpers pulled from a stack of parts in his garage. They were for a 1962 Acadian that he is restoring. He's also had a number of car rims taken.

He also said he once saw scrappers grab someone's barbecue, throw it into a truck and take off. He was looking through a window and ran outside but they were gone before he got there.

Some see it as a free service

Others appreciate the service the scrap collectors provide.

"A few weeks ago they came and knocked at my front door, asking if they could have an old metal bed frame and a few other metal items I had sitting on the outside of my fence," Lizzie Harman wrote on the Facebook page.

"I let them have it. Saves me a trip to the dump."

Rea agrees they can be helpful, taking large unwanted items — old washers and dryers or refrigerators — that people don't want but might not be able to transport to the landfill.

The problem is, they've become greedy, not limiting their take to items in the trash, she said.

There have also been reports of ductwork and other materials taken from yards during home renovations, or even sections of fence removed.

"It used to be just things that people were obviously throwing away, but now they go after everything," Rea said.

Const. Jay Murray said Winnipeg police are aware of stories of metal thefts from yards but have very few reports.

He assumes it's because people think the theft will be a low priority for police, or there will be little chance of getting the items back. Recently, a Twitter user tagged police in a post about about his bird fountain being stolen from his yard.

It used to be just things that people were obviously throwing away, but now they go after everything- Source

"When I told him how he could make a report, he asked if it was even worth it," Murray said.

Rea said she has never reported any of the incidents she is aware of, for the same reason.

"Unless you have video of [the scrap collectors] coming into your property and removing the stuff, there's nothing the police can do," she said.

"So basically it's like, OK, everybody build a giant fence and lock your gates and get cameras. That's the only way to protect your stuff."

Many people will put out metal items they hope scrap collectors will take away, saving them the hassle of hauling the items to the landfill. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Police urge people to report thefts

While it's always a good idea to protect your belongings, Murray said it can also be beneficial to report the thefts.

"We'll pull over these trucks if we think something's up, and there's always a chance investigators may come upon stolen property and attempt to locate an owner," he said.

"For example, if we traffic stop a junker in the area and don't believe the metal was lawfully acquired, we would be looking for reports in the area."

Without those reports, we don't know it's happening- Const. Jay Murray

Reports also help the police identify crime trends or hot spots in areas of the city, where they can then focus resources.

"Without those reports, we don't know it's happening," Murray said.

While the brazen thefts of all types of metal from yards have become a problem only in the past couple of years, copper thefts have been causing issues for the past decade.

As the price of that particular metal surged, thieves ripped out wiring and piping at construction sites as well as Manitoba Hydro substations.

In May, a man and woman were charged after a house under construction in Transcona was broken into and copper piping and wiring was stolen.

Murray knows first-hand what it's like to be victimized. Before he joined the police service, he was working in the city's Exchange District and one late night he slept on a futon in the office.

"I woke up in the middle of night to water everywhere. I eventually found out someone broke into the building and stole copper piping wherever they could get their hands on it," he said.

"Perhaps not a junker but an example of metal theft that affected myself."


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