Need Help Catching Copper Thieves

To the editor:

The media is to be commended for continuing coverage of the thefts at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church. The church now suffers the dubious distinction of four copper-related incidents in two months. The irony is that the Parochial Administrator is the Chaplain for the Antioch P.D.

As is, the cameras have been stolen and thousands of dollars have been lost to air conditioners being cannibalized for copper residuals. Twice now, 500 feet of wire surrounding the building were taken; surge detectors and computer equipment damaged, this indignity on top of the wiring replacement If this were war, and it seems like it is, we’d call it collateral damage.

The rub of this all is that though St. Ignatius has taken more than its share of criminal abuse, there is a regional, if not national, epidemic of this thieving malady. Before we proceed, it must be noted that the first two quarter crime statistics were presented to the Antioch City Council last week by Police Chief Allan Cantando.

To everyone but the dregs of society, we are happy to see Antioch went down in homicides, armed robbery, aggravated assaults, auto thefts, etc. Every barometer, save one, burglary, showed progress. Some measures declined double-digit, despite a 30% drop in uniformed manpower. The Chief and our men and women in blue are doing extraordinary work. That good news and kudos needs to resound as well as a thank you to Antioch citizens who have risen to the occasion and been better eyes and ears of suspicious activity.

Burglary, then, is our current nemesis. It is clear that we live in tough times with extraordinarily desperate people in abundance. It is also clear that we are living in a brave new world with a moral landscape where schools and even churches are no longer sacrosanct.

Witness this: in just my informal comings and goings about town I have personally heard of four other Antioch churches that have been hit recently, three for copper, one, repeatedly, for their van battery and, lately, even for siphoned gas. This is not to mention the rash of churches that have been getting cars broken into during service, or the possible stories of scores of other churches I have not talked to.

As for schools, the Antioch suffered $78,000 in total loss and damage this summer due to copper thefts. That’s lost funding for a guidance counselor. Our deductible is $5,000 per incident so we generally eat the bill. Pittsburg Adult School, the site of my day job, lost three air conditioner units and had their security cameras ripped out – so this is becoming a broken record.

Frankly, it’s beginning to remind me of a third world country, When I lived in the Philippines you would pay someone to watch your parked car. That was a double insurance policy; covering for theft and insuring not getting keyed by the watcher themselves.

Talking about insurance, maybe we should follow what they do in the Philippines. Chinese Filipinos were so often victims of kidnapping that many paid an insurance policy of sorts where they would pay gangs NOT to be kidnapped, sort of a pre-abduction plan. Here, the thieves get a measly few hundred dollars, at best, of copper while destroying costly air conditioners and wreaking electrical havoc. Maybe we should just pre-pay them, but excuse my jest. It’s gallows humor in a grisly situation where you gotta laugh or you’re gonna cry.

So what are we doing for prevention? Well at St. Ignatius, where I am a parishioner, we have been going through the permit cycle for an electric gated fence. Hopefully, the regulatory red tape quickly moves along. Now there are those who argue does a church want to look like a prison? I, for one, am not sure that if we choose an ornamental fence we’re talking prison aesthetics but, at this point, who cares? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs puts security first.

We, as others, are considering the full range of options: caged air conditioner units to slow the thieves down; increased patrols, alarmed cameras, recessed equipment, more sophisticated videoing devices, recording redundancy, camcorders hooking to home monitoring computers, underground cable.

As to the community; we need your help. Parents need to teach their kids good from bad. Neighbors need to be vigilant. If you live next to someone who is going out at strange hours and recycling, it’s worth a friendly call to the police. Most of these robberies occur between 3 to 5 a.m, so beware of strange occurrences. And as for recycling and salvage plants, shame on you if for the almighty dollar you are not checking sources.

If I weren’t such an eternal optimist I’d think America had gone to hell in a hand basket. Certainly, it has hit new moral lows as these acts are despicable. Not that robbery is ever excusable, but this is not General Motors the thugs are hitting. The damage done to houses of worship and to our kids’ schools for the measly return is sickening.

We know crime doesn’t pay. Eventually, the law of averages results in hooligans getting caught. I, for one, think, though, there is a worse reckoning coming that is not temporal, but divine. Science tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Good returns good, evil returns evil. Call it the eastern concept of karma or the western Judaic-Christian dictum that as you sow so shall you reap.

Biblical verse says “the wicked have no peace.” Evil-doers are always looking over their shoulder for the inevitable consequence, the cosmic boomerang. Thieves, recompense is inevitable. How foolish to sell your soul for gold– and to think, in this case, you are bartering your salvation for trivial copper.

By Walter Ruehlig

One Comment to “Need Help Catching Copper Thieves”

  1. Kenji Freitas says:

    It seems to me that the local metal scrapyards that are paying cash to people briging in copper wire, air conditioner parts, etc. are at least partially to blame for not wondering where these people are geting the metal. Legitimate metal recyclers will probably drive in a flatbed truck with a company name on the side. Someone showing up in a junky car with their trunk stuffed full of used copper wire that has been hastily cut should raise some suspicions, if nothing else! Is there a way of labeling exposed wiring/pipes with some sort of label that is very difficult to remove that will indicate the recyclers that it is stolen?

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