It sounds like a scene taken straight from “Mission Impossible.”
In the early hours of July 31, a group of thieves climbed onto the roof of B&L Pools’ Glendale, Ariz., location in an attempt to steal copper from the air conditioning units.
That’s when things got interesting.
“They pushed one of the coolers off the duct work and dropped down into our store using the duct, [then] crawled down the vent,” said Dale Howard, company president.
While inside, the suspects broke into a safe and removed $6,400 in cash. Before making their escape, the burglars pulled apart the video recording security system and removed the hard drive. No one has been arrested for the crime.
Robberies are becoming more commonplace for Howard, who operates six locations in the greater Phoenix area. In fact, one of his showrooms was broken into by two different thieves in a single night. But this most recent episode was the latest of five thefts involving copper since August 2011. Last year, another location had two whole AC units stolen, which cost $25,000 to replace.
“My retail stores are getting hit horribly,” Howard said. “It’s a very prevalent problem for building owners. As the economy gets worse, it’s going to get worse.”
To discourage someone from climbing into the duct work again, Howard has installed razor wire inside the vent, even though it is a liability.
“We don’t think they’ll come down that way again, or if they do, they won’t feel very good,” he said. “But if I lose my business over that, I’m done. It’s just getting out of hand.”
The local police department also encouraged Howard to paint the copper on his air conditioners to reduce its value. And Howard has instructed his employees to bring all goods indoors.
Additionally, he plans to enhance the video security systems inside and outside his stores to include high-definition cameras that can capture the license plate numbers of the robbers’ vehicles.
Reports such as this are not uncommon. Instances of copper theft and related robberies are on the rise, particularly in regions with high unemployment.
As of August 10, copper’s price sat at $7,495 per metric ton ($3.40 per pound). To some, this figure is desirable enough to drive them to unsuspecting targets, including foreclosed homes with swimming pools.
In July, police in Tucson, more than 100 miles south of Phoenix, apprehended four suspects believed to be responsible for at least 56 confirmed cases in which pool pumps were removed from properties located on the city’s east side.
Similar incidents have been reported in other states, too. Many involve foreclosed homes.
When buyers get the keys and move into these homes, they find all the pool equipment missing, Justin Bishop said.
“The pool sweep’s gone. Valves are gone. Everything is gone,” explained the manager of Clearwater Pool & Spa in Clovis, Calif. “There’s basically just broken pipes coming out of the ground.”
So far during the 2012 season, Clearwater has worked on five jobs for victims of copper theft, even while the company itself has fallen prey to a string of robberies involving items with copper.
The staff had been stockpiling old motors for recycling, but thieves discovered their outdoor storage area and have twice stolen the units.
In early spring, approximately 35 motors were taken and about a month later, copper thieves struck again, this time targeting the building’s air conditioning equipment.
A third incident took place in late June, when another 45 motors were removed from the site.
The firm has since installed cages around the AC units on the rooftop, and has shored up the fence and placed barbed wire around the property.
Commercial pools also have been targeted.
In one instance, the National City Municipal Swimming Pool in California was shut down after piping was taken from the women’s shower area, according to multiple reports.