Rooftop rip-off: Thieves go after copper in air-conditioning units

Rooftop rip-off: Thieves go after copper in air-conditioning units
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Some Bakersfield businesses have been hit with an expensive theft. Their air-conditioning units have been stolen right off the roof of the building. Police say it's a crime on the increase, and crooks are going after copper inside the units.

"The whole air conditioning unit above my salon is gone," Headquarters beauty shop owner Kimberly Walton told Eyewitness News. "It's a shell. And they've taken every single thing out of it." She discovered the theft just after Christmas. She turned on the air, and only a fan came on.

Walton's salon is in a strip mall at Fairfax Road and Auburn Street. She said the Tuesday Morning store was hit at about Thanksgiving, and several other stores were also victims.

"Our particular air conditioning unit wasn't ravaged," Abbey Carpet owner Sam Stewart said. "Just some of the parts." Stewart says the crooks stole copper pipes and some vents.

Police spokeswoman Michaela Beard said officers are seeing an increase in this crime, and the material usually gets sold to recycling centers. Beard said they aren't sure if it ends up at local recyclers, or facilities out of the area. The spokeswoman says officers stay in contact with recyclers, and those facilities are supposed to report when they get large or suspicious amounts of copper.

From Holder's Heating and A.C., Roger Holder told Eyewitness News the recycling centers are also supposed to wait a certain number of days after they get materials, before they pay for it. He thinks there are "certain places" that don't follow the rules. Holder adds the crooks may go after anything copper -- coils or refrigeration lines.

His company also sees A.C. thefts at new housing developments, where thieves steal after ground-level units. He's also aware of an air conditioning unit theft at a business on Rosedale Highway.

"The appropriate word is 'brazen,'" Abbey Carpet's Sam Stewart said. "Because some of it was even in the day time."

Walton's heard it doesn't take long for the air-conditioning units to be dismantled. "They usually do it with more than one person at a time," she said. "Toss the things over to the other side off the building to another person."

Stewart said the northeast Bakersfield complex has been safe for all the years he's been in that location, it's just recently that they've been hit by the rash of crimes. "Coming to work every day, you never quite know what you're getting into," he said. Stewart's office was also recently broken into twice. He said crooks took a laptop computer.

Stewart, and some of the other nearby businesses, have now also beefed up security of their back doors, adding more locks.

They're also looking for ways to protect those expensive air conditioning units up on the roof. Walton's checking into alarm systems and sturdy security cages that could go around the entire unit. "Some of us are putting lights on the roof on our own," Stewart added.

That's another problem. The businesses say the property landlord won't pay for replacements or repairs. "That's up to the individual store-owners," Stewart said. "Our leases are very specific."

At Magoo's Pizza, Sidhu said they hoped to get help from their insurance company for the cost of repairs. It turns out now, that won't happen. One of their three air conditioning units was vandalized.

But other stores had already heard their insurance won't foot the bill. Walton figures it'll cost about $7,500 to get a new air-conditioning unit.

"They actually do it pretty quickly," Walton says about the rooftop rip-offs. But, she hopes if someone spots a person on a roof, they'll take action. "If you see somebody that doesn't look like they belong, you definitely need to find out or ask somebody," she said.

Police have the same advice. They urge anyone spotting suspicious activity like that to call the department at (661) 327-7111.