Copper thieves, beware. DeKalb County officials are waging a war in the skies against thieves looking to steal copper for some quick cash. Through a partnership with the DeKalb County School System, the office of the CEO and the DeKalb County Police Department, police helicopters—“choppers”—will now fly over target areas at night to patrol and help capture copper thieves.
“The DeKalb County School System has been victimized on a on a wide scale. These thieves are vandalizing our schools and are putting at risk a quality education for literally tens of thousands of students,” said DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond. “We are moving forward aggressively to do what is necessary to protect our schools. We are going to do everything possible, leave no stone unturned, to ensure that those responsible are apprehended and hopefully, convicted for these horrendous crimes.”
The helicopters are equipped with infrared sensors to detect body heat, night vision cameras to capture images of the thieves and monitors with compass-like measurements to pinpoint the location of the thief or thieves. Police want the public to call 911 if they suspect thefts are taking place.
“You’re talking about $600,000 worth of damage to make $100, that’s it. The school system and other public areas such as libraries and churches as well as some residents are being hit. It was imperative for the Police Department to do something like this,” said Chief of Public Safety in DeKalb, Cedric Alexander. “These thefts are way over a million dollars that the taxpayers are paying for in damages and repairs. All of us in the community have to work together to try to stop these crimes.”
The announcement about the stepped-up efforts to fight copper thefts was made at a news media conference on Aug. 7 at Stephenson Middle School. The Stone Mountain school is one of the latest of 16 DeKalb schools hit by copper thieves. Thieves stripped air conditioning units. In the last month, the damages have cost the school system more than $800,000 in repairs.
Officials say the choppers, which serve as DeKalb Police Aerial Support equipment, will be a part of a DeKalb Schools Burglary suppression unit.
Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May says the copper thefts are a problem for the entire county and the state, not just DeKalb’s school system. He says he is open to ideas on how to approach state legislation to help stop the thefts.
“We are fighting together for our children and want to send out a strong message to the perpetrators of these crimes: DeKalb County will not tolerate copper theft. We will get you. You will be tried and convicted,” said May. “DeKalb Commissioners passed an ordinance years ago to make pawn shops register copper but these thieves are bypassing pawn shops to go to specialty metal dealers, so we have to lean heavily on them next to say something. We also understand they are going out of the state to sell the copper. If we can get one thief we can get others to deter.”