COLUMBUS, GA (WXTX) - One after the other, air conditioning units at the Wilson Apartments in Columbus are torn apart, the pieces scattered on the ground.
Police say someone did nearly $60,000 worth of damage at the government housing complex off Veterans Parkway and River Road, ripping the copper out of the air conditioners.
The crimes were committed at units currently under renovation.
Len Williams, Director of the Columbus Housing Authority, says copper thieves have targeted the Wilson Apartments and the Elizabeth Canty Apartments multiple times over the past six months. Williams say they leave behind thousands of dollars in damage each time and only get a few hundreds dollars when they sell the stolen copper.
Investigators are calling it a rampant scrap metal crime wave in the city.
Even the media isn't immune. Detectives arrested a Phenix City man, Robert Lowell, for breaking into the Ledger Enquirer's building downtown and stealing $10,000 worth of copper fittings and other pieces of scrap metal from inside.
The Housing Authority is trying to fight back, using $250,000 in grant money to buy security cameras and purchasing heavy locking devices to keep copper swindlers from getting what they want.
Local scrap metal dealers encourage folks to mark their air conditioner coils with paint or their initials.
According to Chip Koplin, Public Information and Security Officer for Schnitzer Southeast, those markings make the copper easier to identify if it's stolen and, in some cases, will deter thieves from stealing it in the first place because it makes it harder to sell it.
According to the Columbus Police Department's statistics for 2010, Elizabeth Canty Apartments had the highest rate of crime out of all of the city's housing project.
Wilson Apartments were second, ahead of the Booker T. Washington Apartments.