Thieves target churches, steal cooling units

Published 8:15 pm Tuesday, August 31, 2010

For the second time this long, hot summer, the members of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church at Linwood have been deprived of the cooling system in their little country church, no thanks to the handwork of a thief.

Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas said the church’s four-ton Rheem central cooling unit was removed from its slab foundation some time after midnight on Sunday, Aug. 29, along with the unit’s meter.

“We keep a close eye on the churches in our rural areas and Mount Pleasant had been checked around 1:30 Saturday afternoon and again Saturday night,” Thomas said.

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“By morning the unit had been stolen. This is the second time the air conditioning unit at Mount Pleasant has been stolen.”

Thomas estimated that the unit cost nearly $10,000.

“That’s a lot of money for a small church to raise and then lose,” he said.

Dunn’s Chapel A.M.E. Church has also had three air conditioning units stolen in recent months.

“That makes five air conditioning units here in Pike County,” Thomas said.

“Nine cooling units have been stolen in Bullock County and I understand they were all taken from rural churches and on the same road.”

Because of the close proximity of the churches, Thomas said the thefts in the two counties could be related.

Thomas said the units are being taken and stripped down for the copper and aluminum.

“The copper and aluminum from one of those units will probably bring between $55 and $70,” he said.

“Probably, whoever is doing this is doing it to get drug money.”

Thomas said rural churches are easy targets for those bent on criminal acts.

“These churches are usually isolated and there is little traffic in these rural areas at night,” he said. “That works to the advantage of criminals.”

The Pike County Sheriff’s Department has increased patrols in the areas where rural churches are located.

“We need tougher penalties for these ‘non-violent’ crimes,” Thomas said.

“We’re doing our job in locking these criminals up but they’re right back out on the streets. When people steal from churches – from places of worship, they deserve more than a slap on the wrist.”

The fact that prisons are overcrowded is no excuse for letting criminals back on the street, Thomas said.

“You can’t tell me the prisons don’t have room for them,” he said.

“They have room for them a second and third time. Eighty-five percent of those in prison are repeat offenders. We need to keep them incarcerated the first time.”

Anyone who has information that might be useful in the investigation into the church crimes is asked to call the Pike County Sheriff’s Department at 566-4347. A reward of $500 is being offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for these crimes.