The price of copper rose 41-percent last year, outpacing the soaring price of gold. Thieves look for newly newly built subdivisions where copper is an easy target.
"A lot of the suspects that we catch are in the industry, so they know exactly what to look for."
Mark Stephens is a former Houston Police officer who now specializes in surveillance and theft recovery. He says churches and other buildings not occupied during the week are vulnerable, but copper theft in brand new subdivisions is especially attractive.
"There's two types of copper that they're taking. One is the copper tubing, which is the line for the air conditioning system, and they're taking bits and pieces of that, and the other type of copper is the copper wiring that goes all through the home for the electricity, and a lot of that wiring is copper based."
Stephens says most thieves spend as little as five minutes ripping the copper coil from air conditioning compressors for a quick 50-100 bucks.
"But because they cut that line, the whole house has to be re-wired, so it's costing the homebuilders a couple of thousand dollars. It's a huge problem."
He says efforts are being done to change current laws regarding the theft of copper.
"With the state legislature and city council to a certain extent, to make it harder for these guys to buy the copper, if we can shut down or make it harder for the crooks to sell the copper to these salvage yards, then obviously they're gonna stop stealing, because they have no place to take it."
Meanwhile, 16 Houston Public Works employees face criminal prosecution for allegedly stealing copper and other scrap metal from city work sites. 11 workers were indicted last week on felony charges. The Harris County DA's office says a third degree felony conviction could bring up to two years in prison.
Below are suspects charged in the sale of stolen copper to various scrap yards: