Cops Look For Copper Thief Who Stole From School, Community Center

Houston Police say they have a person of interest, but so far no arrests as they look for a copper thief who stole about $70,000 worth of the valuable metal from air conditioners at an elementary school and nearby community center this week. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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Authorities say it's an all-too-common story, crooks stealing copper from just about anywhere they can find it. In this case, air conditioning units were ripped apart at Atherton Elementary Tuesday night and Hester House community center in northeast Houston sometime over the weekend. It's the latest of dozens of copper thefts in the 5th Ward over the past few months. Katherine Cabaniss is the executive director of Houston Crime Stoppers.

"These two agencies, Atherton Elementary and Hester House, provide service in these areas that are invaluable. The fact that they were the victims of this offense is reprehensible and if you know who did it, then you need to call Crime Stoppers. You can remain anonymous and receive a cash reward of up to $10,000 for that information if it leads to the filing of felony charges or an arrest."ξξξ

With copper prices at between $3 and $4 a pound, it comes as no surprise the metal is a hot commodity with thieves. Cops say there are around 250 copper thefts a month in Houston, mostly in the Heights and the 3rd and 5th Wards. Atherton Principal Albert Lemons says the crooks have no honor.

"I am very concerned when people are heartless, don't have any love in their hearts, don't realize that you are damaging the environment for our children. They must be comfortable in order to learn. We must have air. We must have heat, and for you to come and destroy our school, I'm ready to come find you myself."

Police say it's hard to keep track of the copper thieves and scrap metal yards that buy the stolen goods. There are 115 scrap metal yards in Houston, with only two Houston police officers assigned to a scrap metal squad that monitors illegal sales. Houston Police Captain Caesar Moore says it's hard to stop the bad guys when prices are so high.

"The crooks know that you're going to get a good amount for a basket full of copper. I was at a scrap yard and a guy brought in a basket of copper. I asked the guy how much is he going to get for that? It was about $800. It really didn't look like that much metal, but if you think about it, $800 for half a basket of copper, that's a lot of money."ξξ

Authorities say it would be wise for both businesses and homeowners to secure air conditioning units, either with metal cages or in areas where thieves can't access them, like a roof or behind some other barrier.

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