Another large scale copper theft reported
Air-conditioning units were stolen from a publicly owned building
Published: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 10:05 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 14, 2011 at 12:31 a.m.
Another large-scale copper theft has been reported in Alachua County, and this time thieves hit a publicly owned building.
Investigators said the recent string of copper thefts is being driven by three factor: the need for cash, accessibility, and the relatively high price being paid for scrap copper. Thieves can net $1.50 a pound.
On Wednesday, deputies went to the former county Health Department building at 22000 SE 65th Ave. in Hawthorne to investigate the theft of air conditioners.
The building recently was donated by Alachua County to the City of Hawthorne. The missing air conditioners were discovered when city commissioners toured the building earlier this week.
Sheriff's spokesman Art Forgey said it appeared four air-conditioning units were taken from the back of the building, but it was not immediately clear how much copper they were able to remove from the units. It was also unknown how long ago the thefts occurred.
City officials said someone broke into a city-owned shed in early January and stole copper wire from it. Officials said it was possible the air conditioners might have been taken at the same time.
On Tuesday, deputies were investigating the second theft in two months of copper wire from the Verizon Wireless tower in the 4200 block of Southwest 13th Street just south of Williston Road. It was the second time in two months deputies had responded to the theft of copper wire from a communications tower.
Of particular concern to investigators are the consequences of communications towers being stripped of copper. Officials said some thieves may be leaving the towers unable to function in certain situations.
Scrap copper has been selling for about $3 a pound in recent weeks, according to CMC Recycling in Gainesville. Sheriff's Detective Ronny Pinkston said those who sell scrap copper often only take home about half what it is selling for and have to work hard for what they earn from the illegally obtained metal.
"If the folks doing this (stealing copper) would put the same amount of work into a legitimate job, they would be considered a good worker," Pinkston said. "It's not like they are not working for the money, but they are not working at a legitimate job."
For example, Pinkston said stealing copper from a cell tower often means being able — and willing — to climb to the top of the tower. Those who steal copper wire must burn off the insulation surrounding the copper. And those who opt to strip copper and other metals from air conditioners must be able to use tools to get the units apart, frequently working with light from a flashlight at night so not to be detected.
The recent increase in copper theft cases parallels the decline in the area economy, Pinkston said.
"People involved with this may have had jobs, but they also have drug addictions or other criminal issues and the jobs that they could get have gone away," Pinkston said, "so, they resort to doing this."
Incident reports at the Sheriff's Office show places that are not visited daily, such as churches, cell towers and construction sites, are prime targets for thieves.