Surge in Copper Theft Continues for Churches
Air conditioners are being destroyed and stolen

A surge in U.S. copper thefts has continued throughout the summer.

"We've had copper robberies since forever, but we've seen a spike so far this summer," says a police officer in a recent Reuters article. Fueling more thefts: the rising value of copper during the summer. Since we last wrote on copper theft in late May, the price of a pound of the industrial metal has gone up around $31—from around $412 to $443.

Churches are a major target for these thefts.

"In the first six months of 2011, we have had 679 claims involving theft of copper," says Patrick M. Moreland of Church Mutual Insurance Company. "Damage from these claims is approximately $5.6 million." Compared to the first six months of 2010, this is a 36% increase in claims, and a 30% increase in cost of damage.

Every day at least one—typically more than one—copper theft claim is reported to Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company. "Replacing a four- or five-ton air conditioner costs $3,500 to $5,000, far more than the value of the scrap metal inside," says Laura Brown of Brotherhood Mutual.

Both insurance companies say outdoor air conditioning units are the most popular item targeted by copper thieves.

After three of its air conditioning units were stolen, one Kentucky church had to temporarily close due to the heat, according to a news station. The temperature in the sanctuary reached 93 degrees.

A couple at another church may not be able to hold their wedding service in the church's sanctuary after air conditioners were destroyed by copper thieves, according to Fox News in Phoenix.

We previously recommended placing a cage or fence around air conditioning units, but Guide One Insurance is even more cautious: "Install heavy gauge steel cages to enclose your air conditioning units," Melany Stonewall of Guide One advises. "The heavier the gauge of steel, the longer it will take to cut. Do not use standard chain-link fencing, as it can be cut quickly. These cages also should be designed to allow for proper air circulation and access for maintenance of the unit."

This advice is timely. At the Phoenix church, its air conditioning units were stolen twice in one month. The church used chain-link fences to surround the units, but Dumpsters were used to climb over the fence and another fence was cut through.

Another prevention technique is technology, which is becoming more popular. In Fort Myers, Florida, "Officials with local alarm companies say the sales for [alarms placed inside air conditioning units] are skyrocketing," according to a local NBC news station.

A church in Arkansas is planning to use an alarm after copper thieves targeted it throughout the past five years. Even after it "built a wall, padlocked the gate, and even topped [the air conditioning unit] with barbed wire, it was still no match for criminals," according to a news station in Little Rock, Arkansas. "That's why they've upgraded security, putting in a pressure switch. It's a silent alarm that alerts police when a line is cut in hopes of catching the thieves red handed."

An interesting way to guard air conditioners in some states is to paint the air conditioner, according to the news station in Arkansas: "There is a law in place [in Arkansas and other states] that prevents scrap dealers from purchasing painted copper. Police say you can paint yours as a deterrent."

Another new tip we discovered for preventing copper theft is to be aware that some thieves pose as professional workers. You can ask a worker to show photo identification, which is always provided to workers in professional companies.

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