Copper Theft is an Unexpected Concern for Churches

Copper remains a hot commodity, and because of the metal’s increased value, thieves see a prime opportunity to steal copper from air conditioning units and home and commercial construction sites, in order to turn around and sell their ill-gotten goods to scrap metal dealers for monetary compensation.

Churches remain a primary target of copper theft. For instance, according to Southern Mutual Church Insurance, South Carolina’s largest insurer of churches, it paid:

More than $707,000 in claims to 113 churches through April of this year
In 2010, it paid $1.2 million to 174 churches for the entire year
Thieves hit one South Carolina church twice, causing more than $100,000 in damages that same year

The problem has seemingly grown so large that insurers are considering limiting payouts on future coverage to any church that suffers damage from a copper theft unless they put protective measures in place. A protective cage around an air conditioning unit is one such measure. Other steps can be taken to thwart attempts by thieves to secure the precious metal, which can be found in several places on most church properties, including: rooftop heating; ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units, gutters, pipes, and electrical wiring. The solution is to hinder access. Most thieves are merely opportunists.

Finding creative solutions to deter thieves

The easier the access, the more likely a church will be targeted. Thieves like to strike where they can get what they want quickly and escape without notice. Hindering access and making detection more likely reduces the risk of becoming a victim. Suggestions include:

1.Placing a cage or fence around air conditioning units.
2.Secure the electrical power shut-off switch. Move the switch, if it’s located near the air conditioning units.
3.Enclose church property with a secure fence. Post “no trespassing” signs.
4.Remove ladders and other items offering easy access to rooftop HVAC units.
5.Replace copper downspouts with other materials.
6.Store vehicles inside locked garages or sheds.

If that’s not an option, have members of the church drive vehicles home each night, so they’re not left in parking lots. Don’t leave copper plumbing, gutters, or wiring on construction sites.

Improve the likelihood of detection by increasing lighting around HVAC units and places where thieves might hide. Install alarms on HVAC units. Use security cameras to monitor target areas. Ask church members to drive past the church whenever they’re in the neighborhood, looking for suspicious cars, people, or activity.

Invite church neighbors to call police if they notice unusual activity. Have local police patrol the property regularly during evening and night hours. And perhaps most importantly, make sure church insurance is in force and in amounts that will cover any loss due to theft or other crimes. Consult an agent to make sure the current church insurance is enough to satisfy those requirements.