EDITORIAL: Thieves must be stopped
A welcome first step is perhaps the best way to describe the new and tougher laws now in place to deal with those guilty of stealing and illegally trading precious and second-hand metals. While the legislative effort approved by Parliament this week was a good start, much more must be done to combat this growing menace.
Many communities and businesses across Barbados have suffered because of scrap metal thieves. Individuals have been victims for many years of those from the criminal element who would break into their houses or vehicles or simply rob them of jewellery. In these instances involving theft of scrap or precious metals, there are clearly ready buyers for what must be known to be stolen materials.
Too many businesses have been seriously and consistently affected by professional criminals who break into their operating areas, rip up the walls, floors, doors and ceilings in a frantic effort to remove all the copper pipes and wires on which they can lay their hands. The objective is the quick removal of the much sought after valuable metals. The damage to property and the disruption of projects left in the wake of these incidents can be widespread and goes way beyond the mere theft of the item.
The police have for a long period been complaining about the problems the “cash-for-gold” trade has caused with the criminal element knowing where, when and to whom they can sell their ill-gotten gains. It has been a headache we have allowed to bother us for far too long without taking the necessary corrective measures.
Punishment by imprisonment and/or a fine of $50 000 may be a good starting point, but the victim is still left having to deal with losses. The legislation should have looked at the true scope of the crime. Theft of $600 worth of copper or jewellery may be considered no major loss. But when you factor in the collateral damage caused to buildings and related property while trying to get the copper or even a ring that may be an heirloom, then the magnitude of the crime becomes apparent. Restitution to victims of these types of crimes should become a must to show the perpetrators that they must pay for their illegal action.
As a community we must know the blatant thieves – some of whom operate in broad daylight; some with stolen shopping carts pushing their booty through the neighbourhoods; others creating an additional societal nuisance by smoking out the community while burning the materials to get the copper.
Nobody pays attention to them. Legislation alone, even with stiff penalties, will not be the answer.
As law-abiding citizens, we must take responsibility and watch out for our neighbours and the businesses to help put an end to the illegal trade in metals and jewellery.