Copper theft continues to plague religious facilities
New copper theft prevention video available on YouTube
With copper prices still high, thieves are targeting copper in every form and selling it to scrapyards for cash. Houses of worship and other religious institutions have not been spared from this crime wave.
Half of all theft claims made by Church Mutual customers in 2011 involved copper. Our customers incurred 1,523 copper theft claims with insurance payments totaling $10.7 million. On average, copper theft claims are larger than other theft claims — they accounted for 70 percent of the dollar value of all theft claims.
This year has shown no respite. Through August, our customers have filed 900 claims totaling $6.2 million. This prompted us to create a copper theft prevention video, which is now posted on our YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/churchmutual. It makes an excellent supplement to this Risk Alert.
Frequent target: air conditioning units
The most popular items being targeted for their copper are outdoor air conditioning units. These accounted for about 90 percent of all copper theft claims in 2011.
Houses of worship are easy targets as they are often unoccupied at night, and if in a rural location, they might not have close neighbors. Also, many houses of worship have large or multiple air conditioning units that have a greater amount of copper than a single residential unit.
Consider this typical scenario Church Mutual hears: a member complains that the building is too hot and the air conditioner must not be working properly. The custodian inspects the air conditioning units and finds that someone has disassembled them and stripped them of copper. Sometimes, when the building is not used daily or when temperatures are cool, days will pass before the damage is found. This allows thieves valuable time to dispose of the copper in a scrap yard.
Other items are vulnerable too
Stealing copper for scrap metal is nothing new. Copper is 100 percent recyclable, and selling scrap pieces has become lucrative. Some of the sought-after items for copper scrap metal include wires, plumbing pipes, air conditioning coils and rain gutters. According to scrap metal dealers, it is virtually impossible to tell whether copper has been stolen. Old and new copper wire or piping look the same, and most copper does not display an identifying label or have a serial number or other way to track to whom it really belongs.
The high prices have made thieves bolder and more inventive than ever before. Gone are the days of the quick yank-and-run for copper guttering in the middle of the night. One scheme Church Mutual has learned of involves thieves posing as construction or repair workers for larger targets. They presume that if they pose as professional-looking workers, pastors and neighbors won't question their activity around air conditioning units or gutters. A professional company will always have proper photo identification. Don't hesitate to request to see it.
Thieves return to the scene of the crime
Another alarming trend Church Mutual found is that of repeat theft. After repairs have been completed or equipment is replaced, the location is once again targeted. One incredible example is a Church Mutual customer in the southeast that had copper stripped from their air conditioning units four times in a six-month period. If no additional risk management measures are implemented, you may see the same theft scenario repeat itself.
The work and expense needed to replace or repair the damaged items might not be the only problem. The damage done during this type of crime also can create threats to your building's electrical safety if wires are damaged or stolen. Free-flowing water from damaged or stolen plumbing can instantly turn into a major restoration project. Missing gutters and downspouts also can lead to significant water damage.
- Protect air conditioning units with cage guards, using nonreversible or tamper-resistant screws and bolts in the installation. Consider adding pressure-sensor alarms.
- Consider the location for new air conditioning units. Roofs of buildings might be an option.
- Don't leave ladders outside that can be used by thieves to gain access to rooftop units.
- Consider adding video cameras. They should be positioned so they are visible to would-be thieves, but so they cannot be easily disabled.
- Restrict entry onto the grounds during low traffic periods to one entrance.
- Check that the exterior perimeter lighting includes all outside equipment.
- Cut back trees and shrubbery to increase natural surveillance and eliminate hiding places.
- Request law enforcement officers patrol your facilities on a regular basis.
- Secure materials nightly during construction projects. Do not leave wire spools or piled piping out in the open.
- Mark your metals with a telephone number or other identifiable mark in ink not easily removed.
If you are a victim of copper theft:
- Do not try to stop thieves yourself. Immediately notify the police and gather information such as a description of perpetrators, vehicle description with license plate number and an explanation of what was taken.
- Give immediate notice to recycling centers of what has been stolen with a detailed description of the materials. Scrapyards are instructed to take the names of individuals who bring in materials.
Watch Church Mutual's NEW copper theft prevention video on YouTube.
For a complete collection of the Risk Alert series, click here.