POLICE officers are to stand guard at Hartlepool’s three scrapyards in a bid to snare metal thieves as part of a continued war against offenders.
Hartlepool has been hit hard by the rise in thefts of valuable metals from homes, businesses and streets.
Now two unusual operations have been launched simultaneously to curb those hell-bent on pulling the town apart to make quick cash by weighing in everything from lead from roofs and door handles to fences and cables.
Officers will be stationed on the gates of the town’s three scrap metal dealers every day, while plain-clothed police will be hitting the streets each night to catch criminals red handed as part of Operation Throttle and Operation Duracell.
While the Mail was shadowing the police, a man and a woman were stopped at the junction of Burn Road and Mainsforth Terrace after leaving the Pout & Foster yard.
They were arrested on suspicion of the theft of a cooker and an Asda shopping trolley. Both were taken into custody to be questioned.
Acting Chief Inspector Lee Rukin, of Hartlepool Police, said: “We have a responsibility to challenge, disrupt and frustrate those involved in these activities.
“We have seen a minor increase in crime, particularly around stolen metals. Our intelligence shows that most of these incidents are happening at night, so it makes sense to have patrols and catch them in the act.
“And if anyone does steal something and goes to weigh it in, we will be at the gates the next day to greet them and check what they’ve got. Anyone who can’t prove they have obtained what they are weighing in by legal means will be arrested.
“The public can also do their part by reporting suspicious activity and by safeguarding their property. We can all play a part in putting an end to this problem.”
Operation Throttle will see officers stood outside Sims Metal Management, in Windermere Road, EMR, in Thomlinson Road, and Pout & Foster, in Mainsforth Terrace, throughout the day.
They will be checking what people are taking in and making sure scrap dealers follow proper procedures, which include taking the details of those dropping items off and not disposing of the pieces for 72 hours.
Representatives from organisations including BT, Virgin Media, NEDL, British Transport Police and Network Rail will also visit yards with officers to see if they can idenitfy any of their equipment that has been stolen.
A spokeswoman for Sims Metal Management said: “As the world’s largest recycling company and a trusted and responsible operator, we already implement industry leading security policies to deter metal theft.”
The policies are said to include asking for ID and recording vehicle details, using security cameras, not accepting scrap from people on foot or in a taxi and training staff to recognise stolen metal.
But Simon Foster, owner of Pout & Foster, said walk-in trade has always been a part of the business and it does not accept any suspicious items.
He added: “Walk-in has gone on forever and a day, but now the police are actively discouraging it. It discriminates against the poorer members of the public and makes our lives more complicated.”
A spokeswoman for EMR said they could not comment but it is working with the British Metal Recycling Association (BMRA) on a number of initiatives.
Operation Duracell will target the well-known crooks in the town and will see plain-clothed officers wandering the streets at night looking for any suspicious activity.
Acting Chf Insp Rukin said: “That person coming round the corner could be a copper. We will be walking, on bikes and in cars.
“We have already had success doing this and we are determined to stop those who think they can go out committing crime without getting caught. They should be looking over their shoulder all the time because we are coming for them.”
Police have also been giving advice to businesses, homeowners and builders about how to protect their properties from metal thieves.
Acting Chf Insp Rukin added: “There are simple things that can be done to safeguard buildings, such as painting the lead or replacing it with a cheaper, but just as effective, alternative.
“We will be proactive in speaking to people and giving out advice about how they can help prevent crime.”