NOCATEE, Fla. – The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office said 22 burglaries have been reported at construction sites in the county in the last two months, prompting a neighborhood crime alert.
The latest thefts involved air conditioning units from four homes under construction on Pindo Palm Drive in the Nocatee area.
According to the police report, they also pried into the back sliding glass-doors, went upstairs and stole the air handlers, which are devices that blow heat and air into a home.
Construction workers in the area said the thieves broke into their trailer, as well, cutting through the lock and stealing tools.
Investigators said there have been a number of similar burglaries in which thieves steal appliances from construction sites, which are often busy during the day but empty at night, making them easy targets for criminals.
David Beck, a construction manager for a plumbing company, said he’s noticed the increase in burglaries throughout St. Johns County recently.
“I have seen it where they come in and take the whole refrigerator, the stove, the oven and not even turn the water off and just leave the house for damage,” Beck said. “It's crazy.”
A dozen vacant homes were broken into in the Durbin Creek part of the county this month, and Nassau and Duval County police are having the same problems.
“Now that the housing market is very strong again, you have a lot more new construction. We are starting to see an uptick in these type of crimes,” News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said.
Smith said crimes like these are why builders need to install cameras and consider hiring overnight security.
“What construction companies have started doing is they started waiting until the last minute -- as long as they can -- before they would put valuable equipment into the home,” Smith said.
The builders have posted signs, like one that reads “Smile, you’re on camera,” all across the construction sites to make sure no one else tries to steal anything.