JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Property owner Charleen Smith has more than 60 rental properties on the Westside. She says thieves have stolen her air conditioning units more than 30 times over the last few years, including twice this week alone.
"When they do that, they don't just take the unit. They destroy everything," Smith said. "So you have to replace all of the lines, not to mention the unit itself, which is thousands of dollars."
Smith said the thieves then take the precious metal from the units to scrap recyclers for quick cash.
"It's just gotten completely out of control," she said.
Property manager James Logston said he constantly deals with same problem.
"It's a crisis, and there's no money left in this anymore," Logston said. "The economy's bad enough. Having to replace one AC unit can wipe out a whole year's profit on a rental property, if not more."
AC units present the bulk of the issue in Jacksonville. According to Jacksonville Sheriff's Office statistics, there have been about 3,000 thefts from January 2010 to September of last year. But thieves are also scraping anything made of precious metals, from manholes to funeral vases, storm grates and catalytic converters.
Sheriff John Rutherford stood in front of the City Council to do something about it, proposing legislation that would make it more difficult for thieves to scrap metal.
"What this local ordinance would do, is simply require that the information that the scrap metal processors are collecting today on paper will have to be reported to us electronically so we can then use that data, turn it into intelligence to back and solve a lot of this theft," Rutherford said.
Some metal recycling company owners like Arlen Vernimo are against the bill because they say it'd be too expensive.
"Just on hiring a person alone, just to do it would be a minimum $20,000, and total cost, if I have to have software, will be around $60,000 to $65,000, and I don't have that," Vernimo said.
Vernimo said that instead, property managers should take action by installing cameras.
"Cameras will stop a lot of crime because people don't want to be recognized," he said. "Thieves are like wolves. They go after the easiest targets."
Other ideas tossed around at the workshop included regulating scrap metal transportation hours, requiring a transportation permit and paying for the precious metal by check.
Whatever solution the Sheriff's Office comes up with to combat the problem needs to be decided by March 1.
"There is a state bill that is also going through the state legislature that will actually preempt local government from home rule on this issue, unless they have a bill in place March 1," Rutherford said.
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