Rising temperatures have led to a rash of air conditioner thefts in Wichita by people who sell copper piping and other scrap metal inside the units and leave thousands of dollars of damage in their wake.
Home sellers and renters are being urged to take extra precautions if they leave a house vacant during the sales process, The Wichita Eagle reported.
Since mid-April, 65 air-conditioning units have been reported stolen in two precincts, police Sgt. Allen Wolf of the Patrol East Bureau said.
“That’s half the city right there,” Wolf said. “If you project a dollar amount for those air conditioners, maybe $500, that adds up to $32,500 for 65 of them.”
He said $500 was a conservative estimate for how much damage the thefts cause, adding that vacant houses, homes for sale and houses with “for rent” signs are the most common targets.
Warmer weather has played a role in the spike in theft reports, police Lt. Wanda Parker-Givens said.
“We started seeing an increase about a month ago,” Parker-Givens said. “As the temperatures went up, that’s when people started turning on the air conditioners and saw the thefts.”
Though homes are increasingly popular targets, businesses are seeing their share of air conditioning thefts, too.
Several Wichita stores were left without air conditioning recently when thieves cut the copper wiring from five rooftop cooling units.
Sam McHugh, owner of McHugh Violin Shop, said he noticed a rise in the stores temperature earlier this month, which could be a big problem for his inventory if temperatures go above 90 degrees.
“The varnish on the violins will start to soften and the glue lines also,” McHugh said.
He said the glue holds the front and back of the violin together, and if it gets too hot, it could ruin the violin. Some of the neighboring stores have offered to store some of his more valuable violins, McHugh said.
The estimated worth of the stolen copper piping from the rooftop theft is $400, according to the incident report. But Wray Roofing, which owns the property leased to the shops, estimates its cost will be much greater.
Wray Roofing director of operations Joe Lorimor said the company’s cost could approach $10,000 because the copper piping is fed into the building from the roof. Repairs will be more invasive because the thieves cut the copper off at the base of the roof.
Wolf said police don’t have solid leads on suspects in the air conditioner thefts, most of which have occurred between 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. while people are at work.
She urged people to call 911 if they see suspicious activity, but not to let the thieves know they’ve been spotted so police can arrive while they’re still there.
Wolf said it’s often hard for scrap dealers or police to determine whether items brought in are stolen property.
“It all goes back to being able to prove that it’s stolen merchandise,” Wolf said. “All of the serial numbers that are traceable back to the unit are often removed.”
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