Police report string of copper thefts from air conditioners in Minneapolis

Minneapolis police say copper thieves are now breaking into commercial air conditioners in Minneapolis to snag tens or even hundreds of feet of copper coil. Twelve incidents have been reported since mid-November, prompting police to issue a request this week for the public’s help.

Copper theft has been a long-standing problem at foreclosed homes and construction sites and the number of thefts have increased as the price of copper rose during the recession, according to Minneapolis Police Sgt. William Palmer.

Air conditioners haven’t been a frequent target for copper thieves until recently, Palmer said.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of them getting up on the roofs and going after these commercial units,” he said. “I’m sure it’s happened before, but I’ve never heard of it in 18 years.”

In most of the incidents, Palmer said, the thieves appear to have climbed onto a commercial roof and stripped the air conditioner units in the middle of the night. The air conditioner units are expensive (between $20,000 and $40,000, Palmer estimates), and the theft makes the units impossible to repair.

Most of the thefts occurred in an area bordered by Lake Street on the south, I-94 on the north, Cedar Avenue on the east, and 35-W on the east.

Palmer said it’s unclear how much each unit’s copper is worth, but given the complicated operation and the risk of felony-level property damage charges, he said it’s probably a considerable amount of money.

“The risk has got to be worth the reward they’re getting out of it,” he said.

Police are asking that neighbors call 911 if they see any suspicious vehicles with ladders near commercial buildings at night.

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