Copper thieves hit businesses, churches

Published 8:54 pm Thursday, November 19, 2015

A recent wave of copper thefts in Selma isn’t just costing businesses and churches an inconvenience. They are costing them thousands of dollars worth of damage to their air conditioning units.

While some have paid between $1,000 and $2,000, others have to pay upwards of $10,000 to replace the copper and recharge their air conditioning units with refrigerant.

“They’re doing a lot more damage than what they’re going to get out of the copper,” said Lt. Sam Miller with the Selma Police Department.

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According to Coastal Recycling, the cost of a pound of copper in Selma, depending on if it is No. 1 or No. 2., is between $1.54 and $1.75, which doesn’t add up to much money for thieves.

Nancy Bennett with Property Services said a repairman told her thieves got away with $40 to $50 worth of copper from two of the buildings the company manages, leaving them with a $1,400 bill.

“The way I look at it, if somebody is that desperate, if they had just asked for whatever they needed, somebody probably would have given it to them,” Bennett said. “Too many people work too hard for what they have for it to be stolen.”

Bennett said copper was stolen from two air conditioning units earlier this month.

“They had to have climbed a seven-foot gate because these were in the back of two buildings that are not accessible and you can’t see them from the street or anything,” Bennett said.

“The way I found out about it was I thought something had gone wrong with the unit, and I called the repair person. They came and said nope, there’s not anything wrong other than the fact that the line has been cut for you and next door.”

Property Services was just one of many places that have been hit by thieves in recent weeks. Harrell’s Refrigeration, First Baptist Church on Lauderdale Street, On Time Fashions, Lawrence Brown Service Funeral Home and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church were also among the target of thieves.

“It’s just like the last month has been a resurgence, and they’re not getting but eight to 10 feet of copper, if that, … but it’s not worth near the damage that they’re doing,” said Marie Harrell with Harrell’s Refrigeration.

While it is unclear who was responsible for those thefts, one Selma man has been arrested for stealing copper and vandalizing a business on Ravenwood Drive on Oct. 25.

Kenny Church, 31, was arrested by the Selma Police Department on Tuesday.

According to a press release from Miller, Church was seen on surveillance footage. Church was allegedly responsible for causing $7,780 worth of damage to the unit and the building. He is currently being held on a $250,000 bond.

Church has not been tied to any of the other thefts.

Miller said because there is no way to identify copper from specific buildings, it makes it difficult for the police department to track down thieves.

Some businesses have turned to installing cages around their units, but Miller also suggests lights.

“The cages are a big help,” Miller said. “Lights, whether they’re motion lights or still lights, that is always a big help because when an area is lit up these people don’t want to go into them to try to do something.”

While November has seen an increase in copper thefts, Miller said it was much more prevalent a few years ago.

Miller said he encourages people that have copper stolen to report it to the police.