Rash of air conditioner thefts at NJ churches

CAMDEN - August 12, 2011

Units at several parish buildings across the city have been stolen, and that's despite efforts to keep people out with fencing.

There are concerns this alarming trend will cool off mission efforts.

Church handyman Alberto Carmanete first discovered the costly theft of four big central air units stolen by scrap metal thieves July 24th.

Five days earlier, at another building belonging to Camden's Parish of St Josephine Bakhita, two other units were stolen out of a heavy steel cage that was to protect them from thieves.

Staffer Debbie Carroll says a heavy blow for a struggling church.

"Every theft, every vandalism drags us further down and then we can't do what we are here to do," she said.

Not far away, at the Bridge of Peace Lutheran Church, part of the mission is to feed the hungry.

However, for the second time in two years, thieves stole the church's air conditioners - despite the fact the $5,000 a piece units were mounted two stories high behind razor wire.

"We talked to scrap metal dealers, they say it's approximately $40 to $45, at the most, people will get," said Pastor Giselle Coutinho.

Pastor Coutinho says she has heard other Camden churches have had their A/C units stolen. The city says it knows of only one other church reporting such a theft.

One pastor wrote Camden's mayor Dana Redd asking her to make solving the church thefts a priority, reminding her church members are some of Camden's most engaged citizens who operate shelters and soup kitchens.

The implication - if houses of worship continue to be victimized their mission's will suffer, making an already impoverished Camden poorer for it.

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