COCOA, FLA. -- When a thief swiped three air-conditioning units overthe Memorial Day weekend and caused $15,500 in damage to one of the 19commercial buildings Ralph Perrone owns along Florida's Space Coast, hebecame so frustrated he formed a scrap-metal theft task force with lawenforcement.

The task force is studying how to implement a newmetal-theft law. In July, Florida became one of the most recent statesto adopt legislation aimed at stopping scrapyard sales of everythingfrom stolen beer kegs, A/C coils and catalytic converters to utilitywires and other metal items.

Under the new Florida law, secondhanddealers must obtain signed statements, thumbprints and photographs fromsellers; purchase metal via check or bank transfer; and transmittransaction records to law enforcement officials.

Forty-eightstates have some form of law requiring scrap metal dealers to maintaindocumentation of sales, said Danielle Waterfield, assistant counsel withthe Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. Monday, North Carolinaenacted a law requiring recyclers to take digital photos or video ofcustomers posing with the metal items they are selling. The two stateswithout laws are North Dakota and Alaska, she said.

The NationalInsurance Crime Bureau reported this spring that metal theft claims haveincreased 81% from Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2011. States generatingthe most claims were Ohio, Texas, Georgia, California and Illinois. Thebureau reported the increased thefts were driven by rising prices forbase metals-especially copper.

Waterfield likened the rise of state laws boosting punishment for metal thefts to tougher state laws combating drunken driving.

"We'reseeing thieves rip off the air-conditioning units off local churches.We've seen them steal manholes, leaving gaping holes in our streets. Andwe're seeing thieves who are showing disregard for their own livescutting into electrical stations," she said.

The institute hasestablished an online metal-theft notification system to alertscrapyards of "hot" materials. Among the recent listings:

-Someone stole more than 100 aluminum heavy-truck wheels in Wyoming, Mich.

-Someone stole 10 to 12 500-foot rolls of copper wire valued at $2,200 from a city vehicle in Fort Collins, Colo.

Evenstates with existing laws are looking to get tougher. The New JerseyLegislature is considering a bill that would require recyclers to recordsellers' license-plate information and buy metal via non-transferablecheck, among other stricter regulations.

The CaliforniaDepartment of Justice will spend the next year funding and developing anonline database of scrapyard metal transactions.

Neale reports for Florida Today in Melbourne.