Despite new laws making any theft of copper a state jail felony, thieves continue to plague Texas businesses by ripping away copper tubing from commercial air conditioning units. Several Texas businesses have been hit more than once and the result has been costly, according to the Insurance Council of Texas.
Individual insurance claims from damage to commercial A/C units have run from $5,000 to $100,000. Besides the inconvenience of no air conditioning, time lost and expensive repairs, business owners are faced with high commercial property insurance deductibles and multiple claims can result in increased rates.
Thieves can obtain about forty pounds of copper coil out of every commercial A/C unit which could net them approximately $50 to $100 from a scrap metal dealer. But the destruction to the A/C unit, roof and walls of businesses can be tens of thousands of dollars.
Last year, Texas lawmakers increased the punishment for those caught stealing copper. Lawmakers also approved legislation that would make scrap metal dealers seek applicable licenses, personal identification and provide ownership documentation of questionable copper tubing.
“Enforcement of these laws is very good inside the city limits of most cities, but unfortunately, it’s not that controlled out in some counties and especially the rural areas of the state,” said Jim Shapiro, president of the Recycling Council of Texas. “With the new laws in place, we feel like the state will be covered as a whole.”
Shapiro said the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has begun training officers to track down scrap metal dealers who are catering to copper thieves.
“The DPS has received funding that specifically seeks their assistance in putting a stop to our statewide problem of copper thefts,” Shapiro said.
“It won’t be a minute too late,” said Ben Patterson of the Ron Patterson Insurance Agency in Richardson. “We’ve had three businesses that had claims totaling $250,000 in the past year. One church got hit twice in one month.”
Patterson said businesses that have been vandalized repeatedly risk higher deductibles, higher insurance rates and becoming non-renewed. “If the thieves can’t tear out the copper tubing, they’ll just take the entire A/C unit with them,” Patterson said. “The damage they leave behind means nothing to them.”
DPS officials advise businesses to install outdoor lights, security systems and cameras to ward off would be thieves.