Churches in the United States have lost tens of millions of dollars to copper thieves, and stand to lose even more money if security measures aren’t put in place, the Christian Security Network (CSN) reports.
Churches aren't immune to thieves, who can make a pretty penny by stealing copper and selling it to a recycling facility. Copper pipes, gutters, wiring, and air conditioning units have all been stolen from churches across America in exchange for quick cash. Thieves have even taken cemetery markers and crosses made of the valuable metal.
Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Christian Security Network, says that air-conditioning units are the main target for many thieves and not just small window units either.
He explained that churches are being targeted because, “they are predictable, they have what every other business has (such as AC units), and because churches generally do not have security measures in place (surveys show over 75 percent of churches do not have security).
“All churches are vulnerable and the price of copper has not even peaked,” he said, “so these thefts will only increase. There are measures that churches need to do immediately to help curb this nationwide trend.”
On CSN's website, the organization lists things that churches can do to protect themselves. Air-conditioning units should be securely installed onto a concrete pad at ground level, and should be surrounded by a protective cage. Churches should also install floodlights and, if possible, surveillance cameras. CSN suggests getting a Freon line sensor, which can be connected to a noisy alarm for when an AC unit is taken. Finally, churches should check with their insurance companies to find out what kind of coverage they have in case an AC unit or other theft should occur.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Hawkins laid out just how bad copper theft is in America today.
“Epidemic is probably the best word for it,” he said. “And we didn't use that, we heard law enforcement and legislators start to use this word – these are epidemic proportions that this is happening.”
He said that thieves who steal wiring and AC units often do so using force, ripping out wires and destroying parts of buildings, which sometimes results in tens of thousands of dollars in damage for only a hundred dollar-worth of copper.
Small-town churches aren't immune to copper theft either, he says, and Christians should never think that it could happen to other churches but it won't happen to their own.
“If you take a look at some of the places that these things are happening,” Hawkins said, “you'll realize very quickly that these aren't big city crimes or big church crimes or anything else. Half the towns that we see things happen in we have to go on a map to even find out where they are.”
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that copper theft results in $1 billion a year in losses, and some states are fed up. Last month the state of South Carolina passed a law that requires copper buyers and sellers to obtain permits. They now require metal recyclers to get a photo of each seller, keep record of the seller's license plate number, and make a copy of their permit and photo ID. Recyclers will also have to pay sellers using checks, which are easier to track and will hopefully cut down on criminals looking to make some quick cash.
Nevertheless, churches are encouraged to update their security systems as the price of copper is expected to reach record-high by the end of this year.