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Thieves swiping copper out of commercial AC units in Redding

A rash of thefts of commercial air conditioning units is keeping Redding contractors busy. “It is business, but it’s not the kind of business I want,” said Jay Gibson, owner of Gibson Heating and Air Conditioning. Police say more than a dozen units have been swiped around Redding — including downtown, the Mountain Lakes Industrial Park and Bechelli Lane-Hartnell Avenue areas — over the past two weeks.

“You can get $150 for the copper coils, which is a good chunk of change,” said Enterprise Heating and Air Conditioning owner Norvin Gandolph, noting that the thefts will continue “as long as there are clowns out there without income.” Ironically, Gibson’s office on Prestige Way was hit last week. Thieves took both units on the side of the building. “We have video surveillance on our building, but unfortunately not on the back or side of the building,” Gibson said. “We can see the truck . . . casing the place about 10:30.” Gibson believes the thieves know what they are doing and possibly have a construction or heating and air conditioning background. He figures it takes them about 30 minutes to take apart a unit and rip out the coils. “They are very efficient, very fast. They just leave the skin and pull the coils off and they’re gone,” Gibson said. The thieves are hitting businesses and not homes because they know the business will be empty at night, Gibson said. Gandolph thinks the coils are being sold to area recyclers, not to recyclers out of the area. “There aren’t enough units like that in Redding to steal and take to another city like Sacramento,” he said. “The cost of gas would take up most of what you would make.”

Redding police Sgt. Brian Barner said it’s impossible to trace air conditioning coils. “The problem for us, unlike say a power washer you stole, you can’t identify the property when you drop off disassembled copper in little chunks,” Barner said. And there are no local or state laws that require a scrap metal businesses to report a haul of copper that comes in, though Barner said they are looking into a city ordinance to change that. “The Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) administers programs focused on keeping recyclable materials out of landfills and ensuring the proper disposal of non-recyclable, non-hazardous waste,” CalRecycle spokesman Mark Oldfield said in an e-mail. “Although we are aware and sensitive to the issue of copper theft, it is a local crime and not something over which CalRecycle has regulatory authority.” But Gandolph noted the thieves are breaking federal environmental rules when they cut the refrigeration hoses on the units. Not only does the refrigerant escape but “a huge cloud of misty oil” is also released.

It can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 to replace an air conditioning condenser unit, Gibson said. “Most of us are carrying a $1,000 to $1,500 (insurance) deductible, so you are out about $1,500,” Gibson said. The police don’t have any leads, but Barner encouraged people to call. “Call us and be vigilant because that is what we need,” Barner said. Meanwhile, Gibson will not replace his condenser unit until he figures out a way to secure it and/or put up a fence around the unit.“We are looking at products that we can tie into an alarm system,” Gibson said. Managing Editor Carole Ferguson contributed to this story.

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