Marietta Police recently charged a man with stealing air conditioning units worth more than $10,000 from Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta. Although the air conditioning units were recovered, they were damaged beyond repair, police said.
Copper theft costs the national economy about $1 billion per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
A steady increase in the price of copper in recent years has fueled these criminal acts, said Sgt. Dana Pierce, Cobb County Police spokesman. Thieves take the materials to scrap metal yards for cash.
According to the London Metal Exchange, depending on the grade, scrap copper is worth about $4 per pound this month. In 2002, scrap copper was worth only $.60 per pound.
“When you see copper at a higher price, we see a rise in the theft,” Pierce said.
Many of these crimes strike foreclosed houses that sit vacant and businesses that are closed or left empty overnight. Churches, industrial warehouses and new construction sites are also potential targets. But authorities want residents to know that there are steps they can take to prevent becoming a victim.
“What we recommend is you can request zone patrol of a business or property that is going be vacant, and we will patrol that area.” Pierce said. “The officer will try to get in there every shift.”
It is also important to lock up all doors and windows in buildings that will be left vacant overnight and to notify neighbors you will be gone.
“Know your neighbors. Don’t hesitate in calling 911,” Pierce said. “It’s a matter of minutes or seconds. Law enforcement cannot do their jobs without the public’s support. We need that 911 call to help catch that criminal element in the act.”
Numerous foreclosures and short sales have left many houses vacant, especially in the south end of the county. Real estate agent Pam McCoy of Re/Max Around Atlanta knows first-hand how vulnerable vacant houses are to burglaries.
“I had this happen to me on one of my vacant listings two years ago in Mableton.” McCoy said. “The buyer bought it ‘as is’ and didn’t do an inspection. When he closed on it and had the utilities turned back on, he heard a noise in the basement. Someone had stripped the place of all the copper pipes, so the water was pouring directly into the basement. It had no pipes to go through. He was not a happy camper.”
But alarm and camera security systems can be a major deterrent against these crimes. Scott Gilkey, president of American Alarm Corporation, says his company is selling more alarms for air-conditioning units than ever before.
“Three years ago, nobody ever asked for them,” he said. “Now we get several a month.”
Gilkey said their alarms are visible on the outside of the unit. These alarms work well for businesses because thieves won’t usually bother stealing metal materials if they know the unit is wired.
Security cameras are also a plus, and “no trespassing” signs and signs that broadcast alarms systems are good deterrents as well.
STOP THIEVES IN THEIR TRACKS
Steps to prevent copper wire and air-conditioning unit theft:
* Be diligent about locking all doors and windows before leaving the home or business.
* Know your neighbors. If you’re going out of town, tell your neighbors when you are leaving and when you plan to return and ask them to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
* Call the police and ask them to patrol your area while your property is vacant.
* Get a security system. Many alarm companies make alarms just for air conditioning units. If a burglar sees that your air conditioning unit is wired, this will discourage them from stealing your unit or the materials inside the unit. Motion sensors and video surveillance are also pluses.
* Place “No trespassing” signs and alarm security signs on your property. This will act as a deterrent.