Ruffin, NC -- Churches and cemeteries used to be off limits. But for metal thieves, it seems nothing is sacred any more.
Law enforcement officers in Rockingham County and Greensboro say crooks are now preying on churches and stealing their air conditioners. Those A/Cs have copper components inside that thieves are working hard to get, so they can sell them at recycling yards.
In the Rockingham Co. community of Ruffin, sheriff's deputies have their hands full with thieves who've loaded up on air conditioners in recent weeks. Someone has stolen the A/C's from a Christian academy and a church not far from it.
The slab where the air conditioner sat at the church is still empty. At the school, barbed wire now surrounds the new air conditioner. Deputies say that'll only slow down thieves, but it probably won't stop them.
"It's easy money," Rockingham Co. Det. Kaleb Vaden said. "It's easy to take an air conditioning unit. Your churches are in service Wednesdays and Sundays. Most times, people are gone from then on. It's easy to go in at night. It's easy to go in during the day and take those units. Schools are the same way. It's just easy money."
It might be easy, but it isn't a lot of cash. The copper that's inside air conditioners like will net, on average, between $30 and $100 at a salvage yard or recycling center. But the damage will usually cost A/C owners thousands of dollars.
Investigators say they face an uphill battle. In Rockingham Co., for instance, there are more than 400 churches. Deputies can't be at all of them, so they're asking everyone to be on the lookout for anything suspicious.
Scrap metal places are supposed to ask for identification from people who try to sell precious metals, but not all of them do. The law gets tougher in North Carolina in October, though. Recycling centers and scrap yards will have to ask for more identifying information and will be able to give out less cash.
A Greensboro police officer who essentially works this sort of case full-time said places sell the metals to a larger distributor or wholesaler. Copper usually winds up in India or China, he said, because those countries use it in pipes, wiring and cabling.
WFMY News 2