Police chief seeks crackdown on scrap metal thieves
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Thieves are scrapping stolen cars. It's a daily business in Chattanooga. Police Chief Bobby Dodd wants to put an end to it with tougher laws.
Thieves are taking cars from highways, interstates, even people's front yards, and cashing in at local scrap yards.
And, a Tennessee law is helping them do it. It allows older cars to be sold by someone other than the owner.
Chief Dodd wants to close the loophole state lawmakers left open.
You won't find any stolen cars on Marlin Johnson's lot. That's because he has one rule.
"If they don't have a title we don't talk any further," Johnson says.
But not everyone follows Johnson's rule.
State law allows cars 12 years and older to be sold to scrap metal companies without a title.
Police Chief Bobby Dodd says the loophole gives way to auto theft.
The target: stranded drivers.
"They'll have a flat tire, run out of gas, dead battery," Dodd says. "They have no means of going and replacing a $100 tire right away, so when they come back their car is stolen."
Dodd and other law enforcement officers unsuccessfully lobbied the Tennessee General Assembly to make a change.
Legislators did pass a bill that forces scrap metal dealers to wait three days before scrapping a car without a title.
Dodd calls the measure worthless.
"By the time the car has been brought to the scrap yard, it's already been prepped to be shredded or crushed," says Dodd.
Now he's targeting the businesses transporting the stolen cars.
Their street name: "Wildcat Operators."
The unlicensed wrecker services advertise on roadways, operate in unmarked trucks, and are difficult to track.
Dodd is asking city leaders to require those wreckers to be marked, and obtain business permits.
He also wants scrap yards to report inventory daily, a rule pawn shops already follow.
"Personally, I don't think you should be able to sell something you don't have a title for," says Dodd.
But until the state sees it that way, Dodd is meeting the thieves where they are.
Marlin Johnson supports the crackdown, but isn't losing hope the state will step in.
"It should be maybe 17 years or older to scrap without a title," Johnson says.
Last year alone, 832 vehicles were reported stolen in city limits, and 95 of them were taken to scrap yards.
The Chattanooga Police Department made arrests in all 95 cases, but Chief Dodd says the new ordinance would work as a deterrent.
The city attorney is drafting the new ordinance, which the city council will have to vote on.