It’s an $800,000 problem for DeKalb County Schools. Thieves are targeting school’s air condition units to steal the copper piping found inside the chillers. Authorities says a total of 16 schools have been targeted over the last three months, and authorities are taking to the skies to catch the thieves behind the crimes.
There have been some DeKalb County facilities burglarized twice. Even DeKalb County libraries have also been hit by the copper thieves. For the Stone Mountain school district this expensive crime has left schools scramming to find temporary replacement units as the DeKalb system is set to open its doors to students on Monday, August 11.
In a press conference held Thursday at Stephenson Middle School, law enforcement, DeKalb County leaders and DeKalb district administrators came together to unveil a new concentrated plan aimed at stopping this criminal activity.
So actively in place is a partnership between the DeKalb Schools Burglary Suppression Unit and the DeKalb Police Aerial Support Helicopter. Since many of these crimes are occurring on roof tops, and behind building mostly at night, night helicopter flights using infrared night vision is now part of a 24 hour surveillance plan.
Like the military, the DeKalb Police Department’s specially equipped helicopter's camera can see completely in dark areas. As a helicopter patrol, authorities are also able to cover a large search area in a short time. DeKalb police say this heat sensing technology works both day and night and will be on patrol monitoring schools and other facilities.
Stephenson Middle School is among the district’s 16 facilities hit. Even with a high fences and chains locks securing the school's air condition unit, thieves still stole the copper. Police say the amount of copper taken only gained the thieves about $100 when sold.
However it’s costing the school about $45,000 a month to rent a temporary unit, and will eventually cost $100,000 to replace the HVAC unit. The chillers are critical to all school’s environments. For example, at Stephenson Middle a unit cools about 90% of the school.
DeKalb Police have made some arrest, but the copper thieves have been busy over this summer. 11Alive News reports that in the event another school is hit by copper thieves over the weekend, school officials have a contingency plan in place to move student to other locations.
However, law enforcement warn that with this joint 24 hour surveillance effort, thieves are likely to be caught.