Number of AC thefts creeping up along with temperature

A week ago, someone walked up to Word of Life Church of God in Christ carrying a tire iron — and walked away with the Key Street church’s window air-conditioning unit.

It’s one more sign of the times. The hotter it gets, authorities say, the more window air-conditioning units are being stolen from homes, businesses and churches in some areas.

For years, criminals have stolen the units and stripped them of copper. Now that summer’s heat is here, it’s more likely that the units are being taken for personal use.

“Usually this time of year, if they’re stealing the whole air-conditioning unit, they’re using it as an air conditioner,” said Chip Koplin, co-owner of Macon Iron and coordinator of the Macon-Middle Georgia Metal Theft Committee.

Between June 12 and June 21, at least nine theft reports involving window air-conditioning units were filed with the Macon Police Department alone.

“It happens more as it gets hotter,” said Macon police Sgt. Robert Daniel. “People are basically wanting to get AC to cool down.”

As it gets hotter, more people are also likely to buy air-conditioning units off the street, Daniel said.

“People will steal anything that people will pay money for,” he said.

While the Macon police have seen a constant stream of air-conditioning thefts, the Bibb County Sheriff’s office, the Warner Robins police and agencies in Houston and Peach counties had not seen many units stolen.

The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office has seen a marked decrease in the number of air-conditioning units stolen this year as compared with last year. Last year between Jan. 1 and June 25, 22 units had been reported stolen, according to the sheriff’s office. Twelve units have been stolen during the same time this year.

Warner Robins police Sgt. Scott McSwain said there have been no reports of thefts of air-conditioning units in several weeks.

But some Macon residents have seen their window units seemingly walk away.

Johnny Roberts Sr., the pastor for the Word of Life, received a phone call late one night last week, telling him that his church office’s air-conditioning unit was being stolen.

“I don’t even think he had to use the tire iron,” said Roberts, 52.

“It was one of those old units. It wasn’t bolted down.”

He said when his wife asked him who would steal such an old unit, he told her, “anyone who doesn’t have one.”

While the church has central air conditioning, without the window unit, it has gotten hotter in the office where he works. Roberts brought in a fan from home to try to get a little relief.

Roberts said he’s not sure whether the church will be able to replace the unit.

“We’re really going to have to go over our budget to see if we can work one in. We’re a really small congregation,” he said.

And getting it back is unlikely — at least based on recent history.

“I don’t remember even recovering one,” Daniel said.

Homeowners have been targets too, of course. And the thefts haven’t been limited to simple window units.

The central air unit outside the home that Melvin Williams rents was stolen this month. He said he noticed the theft “when it got warm in the house.”

There are simple steps that can help deter would-be thieves. Authorities recommended putting bars around air-conditioning units, for example, and placing them in a well-lighted area. Also, it’s a good idea to write down and keep the unit’s serial number.

Still, it’s often difficult to deter someone who’s bent on stealing a unit.

“There’s really no way to keep them from” stealing them, said Terry Bryant, a service technician at Bryant Air Conditioning.

“You can slow them down, but you can’t keep them from getting them.”

Telegraph staff writer Becky Purser also contributed to this report. To contact writer Eric Newcomer, call 744-4494.