By Ann Fowler
In the past six months, Austin and Oak Hill businesses have been victimized by copper thieves, who have stolen more than $10,000 in copper tubing from air conditioning systems. Police officials say many times the thieves brazenly park vans or pickups next to the businesses and, dressed like legitimate service people, use ladders to access rooftop a/c units.
Austin Police Detective Darryl Fulbright told the Gazette that the thefts are happening citywide, statewide and nationwide. Oak Hill area businesses have also been victimized. In the past ten days, thieves have targeted businesses at the Shops at Arbor Trails on William Cannon. Police could not give the Gazette specific information on the January 23 “Theft of Metal” police report attributed to Costco. A Costco representative told the Gazette that the theft was actually in the general shopping center. Another report dated January 28 was for the theft of ATM data wiring stolen prior to its installation in the Arbor Trails complex.
Det. Fulbright said no one appears exempt from such thefts: churches, schools, libraries, and homes have all been victimized. He pointed out that last June, the Ruiz Branch of the Austin Public Library was shut down for weeks after thieves removed the copper from the air conditioning system. Oak Hill residents whose homes were destroyed by wildfire last year were victimized again when copper thieves stole wiring that rightly belonged to the demolition companies.
“Sometimes they may get $30 when they sell copper tubing or wire,” said Det. Fulbright, “but it will cost the victim 10 to 15 times that in repair cost. It’s unfortunate, the inconvenience of dealing with the insurance company and getting repairs. Victims have said, ‘If they needed $30, they should have just come to the door and asked.’ ”
Speaking about the Oak Hill thefts, Det. Fulbright said, “We are actively pursuing them.” He said a colleague likened copper thieves to an ant hill. “You can step on one, but there are still a thousand of them around.”
Officials say public awareness and reporting is often the best defense against such thefts. Men that show up under the guise of a/c maintenance should be asked for ID. Anyone seeing vehicles parked near businesses or empty homes (those for sale or lease) during unusual hours should call 911 with the license plate number so police can investigate.
Anyone with information about these incidents can call the Austin Police Department burglary unit at (512) 974-6941.
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