Despite changes in state law to curb copper thefts, Beaufort County businesses and homes are still targets.
Case in point: Last month in Bluffton, thieves nabbed a 3-ton, $6,500 air conditioner unit from a rental home. And a second home's air conditioner unit was vandalized for copper wire and other parts. More than $2,100 of property was stolen.
Law enforcement agencies across the state are reporting only modest drops in the number of thefts since state law was changed in 2011. Copper is a valuable scrap metal because of its use in a wide variety of items, including plumbing and electrical parts.
State lawmakers attempted to address the problem two years ago, but they did not go far enough.
We agree with the S.C. Sheriffs' Association and S.C. Recyclers Association that greater restrictions are needed to halt copper from being stolen out of air conditioner units and sold to recyclers.
State legislators had hoped to make a big dent with new restrictions that went into effect in August 2011, requiring anyone selling or transporting copper and other nonferrous metals to get a permit from a local law enforcement agency.
But metal robbers are still finding a market for their stolen copper, vandalizing homes, businesses and churches. In some instances, thousands of dollars of damage have been done to steal just a few hundred dollars' worth of copper.
We agree with the Sheriffs' Association's proposal to ban the sale of copper coils from air conditioners altogether, unless the seller has a receipt for a replacement unit or operates a relevant business, such as a heating and air conditioning company.
Few other instances exist in which a would-be seller would have copper coils. And legitimate recyclers should welcome changes in law that ensure their purchases are not the result of illegal activity. It would also bring relief to residents, knowing more is being done to protect their investment.
The S.C. Senate is expected to take up a bill that includes the ban proposed by the Sheriffs' Association when it returns to work in January.
It's a minor change in law with great potential to deter copper thieves.