Freeman Bosley Sr. is fed up with the brick bandits.
The third ward alderman says the thieves have replaced copper scroungers as the scourge of north St. Louis developers. They set fire to building frames and demolish walls in order to steal the iconic red clay by the shopping cart load. They reap hundreds of dollars in illicit profits when they sell their plunder to the city's brickyards, which in turn ship the building materials to developers in other cities at a substantial markup.
"They're stealing these bricks like they're going out of style," Bosley told Daily RFT earlier this week. "Go to the railyards and you'll see flat car after flat car going to Chicago, Atlanta, Colorado, everywhere."
To combat the problem, last week Bosley introduced Board Bill No. 128 (click for .pdf) which includes several measures to prevent and discourage brick theft, including a fine of up to $500 per brick and a jail sentence of up to 90 days for anyone caught buying or selling ill-gotten bricks.
Other ideas in the current version of Bosley's bill:
-Brick dealers would be required to photograph all bricks "sold or offered" to them and take pictures of the person who brought the bricks and their vehicle.
-People who offer salvaged bricks would be asked to provide a copy of a recent demolition permit identifying the building from which they came.
-The hours of brickyards in the city would be restricted. They would be required to close by Friday at 6 p.m. and remain shuttered all weekend until Monday at 5 a.m.
As for that last provision, Bosley says, "that's when the stealing takes place, over the wekend when there are no [building] inspectors." He also suggests that the police officers currently charged with inspecting local pawn shops for stolen goods take over monitoring the brickyards as well.
Bosley believes his bill will have broad support among his fellow aldermen. "It's costing the city a tremendous amount of money," he says. "This is something that needs to happen. It's in the best interest of the the entire city of St. Louis."
"Right now with tax credits, developers or contractors are able to get 40 cents on every dollar they spend redeveloping one of these buildings," Bosley explains. "But then when the brick thieves come in they make that 40 cents unappealing because of the damage and cost it takes to repair that brick they lose."
Asked if he's worried the restrictions will prompt the city's brickyards to relocate to St. Louis County, Bosley responds, "If someone is going to take a shopping cart from Schnuck's all the way to the County full of bricks, maybe he should be allowed to keep those bricks."
For more on St. Louis brick theft, check out the story in Monday's New York Times by former RFT staffer Malcolm Gay and this YouTube video uploaded by 21st ward Alderman Antonio French: