Church victimized by copper thieves for third time in a week

| February 13, 2010

Deacon Denney Walker said he didn’t understand what type of person would steal from a church after A Place of Refuge was victimized three times.

One of the church’s heating and air-conditioning units was destroyed for the copper inside on Jan. 29.

Then, just days later, Walker discovered two other units destroyed, significantly affecting the amount of heat available in the church’s youth center.

Within a week, the last unit attached to the building was taken apart beyond repair, and Walker said he felt the culprit had gone too far.

“The first time I thought, ‘this is crazy, who would have the nerve to steal from a church?’ The second time I thought, ‘that’s just too far.’ The third time, the anger comes in because whoever is doing it knows a little bit about us so now they are doing it intentionally,” Walker said.

The damage was estimated to cost more than $25,000, a major financial burden for a church that focuses its resources on community outreach.

“The main thing that hurts so bad is that the church is always helping the community,” Deacon Michael Holland said. “Who would want to steal from the community?”

Though insurance will offset some of the cost, Holland said he is unsure how much the policy will cover. The church has also added security measures to protect remaining units on the property that supply heat to the gym and the main sanctuary.

The youth building, which was affected by the unit losses, also served as the adult Sunday school building, so classes will be moved or canceled this weekend, depending on weather conditions.

“This week it might be too cold so we’ll have to split up in the sanctuary,” Holland said. “Or it could be warm enough to move upstairs.”

The church’s gym is attached to the youth building and the two larger units that supply heat to the gym are still in tact, so youth programming and adult Sunday schools may be moved to that area.

Walker said he hopes those who stole the copper will be caught to prevent them from stealing from others.

“If someone is that low down to steal from a church, they’ll get any person,” Walker said. “What’s going to stop them?”

Copper has been a target of thieves because of the money they get by selling it, usually to recycling centers.

But according to Carrollton police Capt. Chris Dobbs, stealing copper from heat and air units was more common a year ago before new regulations made the practice more difficult. Also, the price of scrap copper has declined since then.

“The recycling centers now have to get IDs, tag numbers and they have to write checks so we can go back and look at record patterns,” Dobbs said.

Investigators have looked into copper sales related to the dates of the Place of Refuge thefts, but Dobbs said they are still trying to identify a suspect.

“We believe the same person did each one and we’re going to continue to investigate,” Dobbs said.

Patrick Denney of SLM Recycling in Carrollton said he believes the frequency of copper thefts depends on the price of copper at the time rather than any new regulations.

“The regulations are a deterrent to some but more than anything, the price going down has affected it,” Denney said. “But if someone is desperate enough and they can get 10 cents a pound for it, they will still steal.”

Denney said he works with police to help solve such cases, and is very discriminating about what metal he accepts.

“I believe a lot of the stolen copper goes to other places,” Denney said.

Holland said he views the theft as a crime against children since it affects the church’s youth more than the rest of the congregation.

“We are trying to give them something to do to keep them off the street and now their building doesn’t have heat,” Holland said. “It’s bad enough they would hurt grown adults but it’s mainly taking from children.”

The church hopes to replace the units within two to three weeks.

“We’re moving pretty quick on it,” Walker said. “You can last for a little while but not for long.”

 

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