Device may thwart air conditioning copper thieves

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SUGAR HOUSE -- Copper thieves are not limiting their targets to construction sites and vacant buildings, but stealing the metal from churches, too.

A chapel belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sugar House had $300 worth of copper stolen from its air conditioning units recently. Thieves broke through a locked gate and cut the pressure line of the units top steal the wiring, causing the church to pay $34,000 to replace the tampered units.

According to Rick Harold, who attends church at the chapel and provides security there, thieves have stolen copper from 60 air conditioning units at LDS churches across the Salt Lake Valley.

Harold took pictures on his cell phone after thieves stripped the church's air conditioning units for copper.

"The scrap on the copper is so high and the economy is bad," Harold said. "These people think that they need to have the easiest way to make a dollar."

Granite School District has been facing a similar string of thefts from their air conditioning units. A total of six schools in the district were vandalized, and $2,000 worth of copper wire was stolen from the old Granite High School football stadium, resulting in $27,000 of damages to equipment.

"We're going to try and get those up and back and running again as quickly as possible, but obviously, that's impacting the classroom," said Granite spokesman Ben Horsley.

Security experts say these air conditioning units are being hit and many people won't realize it until they go to turn on the units this summer.

"Because they don't use their A/C in the winter time, now it's going to start warming up," Harold said. "They're going to notice they're gone."

Harold, who owns an air-conditioner theft protection company, is trying to prevent that scenario from playing out any more. At the church, he installed a tracking device on each unit.

A satellite tracks the device, which detects power outages and any movement, and senses pressure. So if a thief were to try cutting the copper pressure line like in the past, the pressure would trigger a call to the police department.

The tracking devices cost up to $385 a year with a yearly maintenance fee. A spokesperson for the LDS Church said that because it was the weekend, he was not able to get the information to confirm the number of units that have been tampered with.


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