Church robbed of A/C

Published 4:00 am Saturday, August 21, 2010

The value of copper and scrap metal are seeing a steady increase in recent weeks — and so are thefts.
Escambia County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Mike Lambert said the increase in value means more businesses, churches and homes will be hit by vandals and thieves.
“With the price of copper and scrap metal going up just about every day you can expect to see more and more of the items being stolen,” Lambert said. “People really need to be conscious of this and take steps to protect their property.”
Deputies with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department discovered thefts and damage at the Victory Christian Center at U.S. 31 and Smith Road Thursday morning and are searching for leads in that case. In an earlier case, Lambert said two arrests were made this week when the suspects admitted responsibility for similar thefts in Escambia and Conecuh counties.
James E. Brown, 27, and brother, Charles Brown, 25, both of Evans Avenue in the Riverview community, were arrested this week on charges of first degree criminal mischief, second degree criminal trespassing, third degree burglary and first degree theft of property.
“The Friendship Freewill Baptist Church in the Friendship community had reported that three of their air conditioning units had been damaged when someone tore them up and stole the copper and aluminum from the units,” Lambert said. “We were able to find where the metal had been sold and got an identification of the people who sold it to the scrap yard.”
Lambert said technicians who had previously done work on the units at the Friendship church identified the metal as their handiwork.
“When we knew who had sold the metal we went looking for them,” Lambert said. “As we were headed to their home, we saw them in a vehicle on the road and initiated a traffic stop on the two brothers. Once under arrest, both admitted they were responsible for the theft at the Friendship church and admitted responsibility for a similar burglary in Conecuh County.”
Lambert said the two men took officers to a location in Castleberry where the pair had sold other metal.
“We made contact with the Conecuh County Sheriff’s Office when we arrived in Castleberry,” Lambert said. “The two were then arrested by Conecuh County Sheriff’s deputies on similar charges. They are being held there and will be turned over to Escambia County to face charges here once they have been released there.”
Lambert said the pair also made entry into the church and reportedly took food items from the church.
“They had done some work at the church recently and knew where a spare key had been hidden,” Lambert said. “They told us they took the key and went inside to take the items from the church.”
The damages at Friendship Freewill Baptist Church are estimated at about $15,000, Lambert said.
Lambert said the damages and theft at Victory Christian Center are estimated at about $25,000 since five air conditioning units at the church were stolen and a sixth was vandalized.
“With the increase in copper and metal thefts our officers have increase patrols,” Lambert said. “The officers were on patrol when the discovery of this theft was made. The church had air conditioning for services on Wednesday night and this discovery was made on Thursday. We know that the church was hit sometime after church on Wednesday night.”
Lambert said locations that have a limited amount of traffic are most likely to be the targets of such thefts and acts of vandalism.
“Businesses and churches where people are not there every day are more likely to get hit than residential areas,” Lambert said. “But we are seeing homes get hit as well. With the value of scrap metal continuing to go up, we are seeing more and more of these kinds of thefts.”
Lambert said homeowners, churches and businesses need to increase their awareness and take precautions in protecting their property.
“There are companies out there that have devices that are designed to protect this type of property,” Lambert said. “Anything an owner can do to help prevent these kinds of thefts is going to benefit everyone. Having identifiable markings on property can help to locate items if they are stolen and possibly lead us to suspects in the cases.”
Lambert said anyone with information concerning the theft and vandalism at Victory Christian Center or other cases in the area should contact the Escambia County Sheriff’s office at 867-0304.