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Police on Lookout for Copper Thieves


Some thieves in Milwaukee have been stealing air conditioners – or parts of them.

The crime has been most prevalent recently, in the Jackson Park-Alverno College neighborhood.

What the thieves do, according to Milwaukee Police Capt. Chad Wagner, is pry open central air units, and strip out the copper tubing. It sells, these days, for $3 a pound. Wagner says there might be a few pounds’ worth in each unit.

“They’re going to get approximately $10-20 dollars, if they’re lucky, for that material. But they’ve committed an incredible amount of damage to get it,” Wagner says.

Central air conditioning units generally cost between $2,000 and $3,000.

Wagner says metal thefts – especially copper – have grown in the last six years. He says that’s because prices have tripled, as China has demanded more.

Milwaukee police have been educating residents about the risk. Wagner says they need to know they could be seeing a crime in progress.

“Frequently, when we talk to the neighbors and people in the area, some of them saw what was happening but they assumed they were contractors working in the house, maybe repairing it or installing something, but didn’t realize that, in actuality, it was thieves,” Wagner says.

Wagner says it can take them awhile, and they often cause a lot of noise while ripping open the machines. So if residents call police, officers could be able to arrive in time to make an arrest.

Wagner says thieves often are prosecuted for the damage they caused, not just the value of the metal they took.

Ann-Elise Henzl became News Director in September 2017.