One recent example of large-scale metal larceny occurred at an abandoned building in Calhoun last month, Calhoun City Police said.
The man charged in connection with the theft, 31-year-old Justin Christian Dodge, of Calhoun, allegedly stole several pieces of metal from the building. Police were able to catch him due to a recycling center receipt found in coveralls left at the scene.
The report also stated, the receipt contained evidence of who he was and that Dodge had previously sold metal to a recycling center in Rome.
Two months earlier, vandals attempted to steal copper from Comcast wires, causing Internet outages that crippled many Comcast-dependent businesses in the city, according to previous Calhoun Times reports. Last year, the old Coosa Middle School in Floyd County suffered more than half a million dollars of damage due to copper theft.
The continuing rise of prices for copper, aluminum and other metals along with their availability in common places may be to blame, according to Lt. Tony Pyle, Information Officer for the Calhoun City PD.
Pyle said thieves in the area typically target abandoned homes, or other buildings, as well as air conditioners, for metal wiring. He said inhabited homes are also targeted during the day, when residents are at work. He also said thieves take galvanized pipes from chain link fences.
The thieves then make quick money by selling the items to recycling centers or scrap yards.
“It’s easy money,” he said. “They could rob a store and get a couple hundred bucks, but that’s a federal offense.”
“Stealing from abandoned residences and buildings is a few hundred dollars made in only a couple of minutes,” added Gordon County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Robert Paris.
In most metal theft cases, the suspect is only charged with a misdemeanor and a possible prison sentence that could last up to a year, said Paris. If more than $500 worth of metal is stolen, the theft is a felony, according to Georgia law, and a thief could spend up to 10 years in prison.
Depending on the price of copper, thieves can get a couple hundred dollars for the stolen goods through scrap yards and recycling centers. However, for the victims the price is much more.
“They strip an air conditioning unit of its wiring and get about $150 to $250 for it,” said Pyle, “but by doing this they’ve destroyed a $5,000 unit.”
Over the last 90 days, Pyle estimated the Police Department has dealt with 15 copper theft cases in Calhoun, and Paris said the Sheriff’s Office has encountered 10 in Gordon County.
The thefts have proved difficult to stop for the local law enforcement agencies, as Paris said disposing of the metals is easy and virtually non-traceable.
Pyle said one of the only defenses against metal theft is the recycling center, which also the place where most thieves take metal for payment. Centers are required by law to get the ID of the person selling copper and to try to find out where the metal came from.
“We are able to track who and what they’ve exchanged,” he explained. “For example, if we are looking for a certain amount of metal that was made in China, and the recycling plant has it on file; then we have a lead.”
Residents who live in rural areas of Gordon County are encouraged to report any suspicious cars in the area to local law enforcement, said Pyle, as a vacant homes or homes under construction are especially at risk.
“It’s better to call us than not,“ he said.