Hurley Elementary the latest in slew of copper thefts

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 29, 2011

By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — Even elementary schools aren’t safe in the recent surge of copper theft in Rowan County.
A Rowan County Sheriff’s report said thieves broke into three air conditioning units at Hurley Elementary School on Tuesday evening and stripped out copper.
The ends of cut-off copper pipes remained visible Friday at 625 Hurley School Road. Kim Walton, the school’s principal, could not be reached by telephone.
With rising metal prices, authorities have seen a large increase in copper thefts in 2011.
Salisbury Police have seen 373 more larcenies in the first six months of 2011 than in 2010. Salisbury Police Spokeswoman Shelia Lingle said most of that increase is attributed to copper theft.
Lingle warned that one of the new trends in copper theft is stealing from AC units.
“They’re gutting them,” Lingle said of AC units. “They’ll take any kind of metal. You can’t trace them like that either.”
The yard manager at Holmes’ Iron and Metal said the main reason thieves are targeting AC units is because the copper can be stolen so quickly.
“It’s just four screws” holding an AC screen on, said the manager, who would only give his first name, Dwayne. “They could probably get into it in 30 seconds to a minute.”
The manager said he’s surprised AC larcenies have become so popular because the amount of copper in a unit doesn’t yield a large price.
“It isn’t going to pay any more than like $30 scrap, and the compressor isn’t going to be but like $20,” he said.
Copper typically runs about $1.30 per pound right now, he said, but he’s heard the price could get as high as $6 per pound in the near future.
“If copper gets that high, it’s going to get really bad,” he said.
The manager said his business doesn’t want to buy stolen copper and has taken measures to help combat thievery.
“We don’t want to buy stuff like that,” he said. “It makes a bad name for everybody.”
The business now takes photos of those who sell metal. He said this helps hold people accountable.
“That weeds out the people who have stolen copper,” he said. “Most people who are doing something wrong don’t want their picture taken.”
According to the Holmes Iron manager, the business has had its share of scrap metal larceny issues.
He said people were breaking into the yard, stealing metal and often selling it back to the company.
“It’s difficult to prove that metal was yours before,” he said.
The company was losing as much as $50,000 a year on stolen scrap metal, he said, but has put up a 7,000-watt electric fence to keep thieves out.
The scrap yard, he said, keeps in contact with police and tries to alert authorities whenever something suspicious happens.
“We’re working with authorities any way we can,” he said.
Copper theft has also gotten so popular that some thieves break into residential AC units with the residents inside their homes.
Salisbury Police Lt. Tom Wilsey took it upon himself earlier this week to notify residents in the Milford Hills neighborhood about the rising problems of copper theft.
Lt. Tom Wilsey said he delivered letters to 58 homes in the area near Statesville Boulevard warning people about the increases in copper larcenies and several thefts that have happened within the neighborhood.
“I’m just trying to get people to be on the lookout and for the neighborhood to band together,” Wilsey said.
Wilsey said he decided to send the letters when thieves cut copper pipes out of an air conditioning unit in a home where people were living.
“There are some older folks that live in the area,” he said. “I wanted to give them a heads up.”
Wilsey said other neighborhoods should be watchful of suspicious people also.
“This has been happening all over the city and, for that matter, all over the state.”
Wilsey said to call 911 dispatch if you see suspicious persons.
“If you can, try to get some vehicle information,” Wilsey said.
Contact Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.