Summer shore homes targeted by thieves

May 21, 2008 3:28:02 PM PDT
Authorities at the Jersey shore say they're seeing a spike in thefts of copper and other metals, right from people's homes. The metal bandits have been having a field day during winter and spring, since few people live at the Shore during the off season. When Robert Bell, of Langhore, Bucks County began getting his Ocean City condo ready for Memorial Day, he discovered the copper pipes at his outdoor showers had been pilfered. And the copper crooks knew exactly what they were doing.

"They just took it right out," said Bell, "cut the clamps with some kind of clipper. They didn't just come down here to try to pull it by hand. They had tools with them."

Bell has now replaced his missing copper pipes with plastic ones. Authorities say Bell is one of at least 10 victims in Ocean City alone. There are many more cases reporter in Atlantic and Cape May counties.

"I think it's the economy with people out of work, things like that," said Bell.

The price of copper has soared as least fourfold in recent years, making it a magnet for thieves who can resell it quickly.

"It's quick cash. Metal is at the highest value it's been in years. It's very hard to trace these items so they can take them to a recycling center, get some quick cash and be on their way," according to Lt. Steven Ang of the Ocean City police department.

But it's not only copper that's being stolen down at the shore. Thieves are hitting construction sites and even historic churches like Tabernacle Baptist.

"We're also seeing aluminum planking from construction sites, aluminum scaffolding, metal scaffolding, we've had a couple of aluminum boat masts taken, we've had propane tanks, we've even had items set out for recycling, washers dryers refrigerators taken from behind homes," Ang said.

Police expect to get a flood of new crime reports on metal theft in the days ahead as homeowners seeking sun and sand begin to arrive.

"There are going to be people who haven't been to their homes for several months and they're going to turn on their outside water and find out their shower pipes are missing," Ang laments.

Prosecutors in Atlantic and Cape May Counties promise to crack down on this type of activity. But so far, there have been no arrests.