Churches make easy prey for metal thieves
Another Catholic church – this one in Southern California – has become the victim of copper thieves, a growing and expensive security problem for parishes across the state.
“Investigators said that in a span of two months the air conditioning units of four churches in Ramona have been vandalized and recyclable items have been stolen,” said a Feb. 22 news release from San Diego Crime Stoppers, which is offering a reward of up to $1000 for leads in the thefts. “One of those churches, Immaculate Heart of Mary, has been hit three times by thieves targeting copper and aluminum.”
Ramona is an unincorporated town of about 30,000 residents in eastern San Diego County. Its police services are provided by the sheriff’s department.
“Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, located at 537 E Street in Ramona was targeted three times between November 26, 2011 and January 25, 2012,” said the Crime Stoppers press release. “Sometime between November 26, 2011 and November 27, 2011 it was discovered that an unknown suspect dismantled three air conditioning units and stole the aluminum and copper evaporator coils found inside. On December 01, 2011, it was reported that someone vandalized one of the air conditioning units by cutting the Freon line. On December 20, 2012 it was discovered that an unknown suspect damaged an industrial heat pump by taking the copper pipes. The damage was so severe that the unit may have to be replaced at a cost of over $30,000.”
Other Ramona churches identified by the sheriff’s departments in the serial thefts included the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, The Way Church, and St. Mary’s in the Valley Episcopal Church.
“Investigators are asking anyone with information on the identity and/or location of the persons responsible for this crime to call the Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line at (888) 580-8477,” said the press release. “Anonymous email and text messages can be sent in via www.sdcrimestoppers.com.”
Metal thieves – particularly copper thieves – have become increasingly brazen in their crimes across California. In October 2011, they stole a historic 5300-pound bell from the grounds of St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. The bell was later recovered near a West Oakland salvage yard, where police said it was likely “very close to being broken down for its metal value.”
In late August of 2011, the lights went out at St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Church in Antioch after thieves stole about 500 yards of copper wire from an outdoor pipeline containing the church’s electrical cables. Parish officials had to scramble to get the power back on in time for a Saturday Vigil Mass.
The August 2011 incident was the third time the Antioch parish had been hit by copper thieves in a period of two months.
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