Copper: Thieves' New Precious Metal

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When cold temperatures move in, heating units are a hot commodity. But some thieves are more interested in what's inside those units...copper.

Barker's Heating and Cooling owner Tommy Barker said the rise in price of the metal has made residential and commercial units attractive targets for thieves.

"The copper value has gone up so much in the past (that) people tend to want to pickup and sell it, (but) now they are (going) further, trying to dismantle units," Barker said.

Once a crook pulls out the copper, they are able to sell it to scrap yards or metal recycling facilities.

"They could scavenge a unit and probably get anywhere from $40 to $50 dollars a unit," Barker said.

He said about 80 percent of heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) units are manufactured with copper so there is an abundant supply of it. In addition, Barker said the place where most units are set up makes them easy pickings.

"They are usually in dark areas or unpopulated areas and they can do their work behind there and nobody bothers them," Barker said.

Barker also adds that some thieves are able to demolish an A/C unit in about five minutes. And some can steal the copper regardless if the unit is attached or not.

"These things are hooked (up) to 220 volts, so they have to be pretty daring," Barker said.

Bryan Assistant Police Chief Peter Sheets said the increase in copper thefts is a national trend has made its way here.

"We had 13 thefts in December, 14 in January," Sheets said.

College Station has also seen occurrences of this crime. The police department has recorded 13 reports of copper thefts since October. Sheets said the rise in incidents directly correlated to the rise of the price of copper.

"We noticed that area copper theft peaked in December and that was about the time that the price of copper was also peaking," Sheets said.

He said in December the price of copper was $3.20 a pound. Police suspect the individuals committing this crime have a drug dependency and they are looking for fast money. However, in the first week in February the Bryan Police Department arrested an individual for theft of copper coils from an A/C unit. And surprisingly, Sheets said the number of copper thefts fell dramatically.

He said this development suggests that perhaps only a few people are committing the majority of the copper thefts. Police are still investigating. Sheets said most A/C units are probably safe because criminals appear to be targeting units that are on vacant or abandoned properties.

He suggests members of the neighborhood watch be on the look out and report anything. For construction sites with A/C units and copper tubing on the property, Sheets recommends companies put a security system in place and make sure to secure the site before personnel leaves.

Tommy Barker said homeowners may want to shine a light on their unit to deter thieves, because once the A/C unit is ripped open, it is gone.

"It is not too much you can do with it after that point but replace it," Barker said.