Drastic Steps Taken by Valley Metal Thieves

September 10, 2008 8:17:41 PM PDT
Merced police have arrested a man wanted for an unusual string of burglaries.Detectives say Brett Price hit at least ten homes in this north Merced neighborhood.

The target?

More than half a dozen air conditioning units.

These large, heavy air conditioning units may not look like the easiest items to steal, but police say desperate times can lead thieves to desperate measures.

Cmdr. Floyd Higdon, Merced Police Dept.: "It's attractive with the economy going the way it is, they're on the outside of the house, they're not being put up on roofs anymore where it would be tough to get to."

Detectives say 45 year old Brett Price confessed to stealing at least seven air conditioning units from these model homes and other houses in the Bellevue Ranch Subdivision. The units are worth about five thousand dollars each, but Commander Floyd Higdon says price was planning to take them apart and sell the pieces as scrap metal, which would have drastically reduced their value.

Cmdr. Floyd Higdon: "It's not profitable, but in these times can be to someone who doesn't have a lot of money."

This is just the latest case of Merced's on-going metal theft problem. The county's rural areas have been hit hard by crooks taking brass irrigation valves and copper wire from farms and ranches. But the city has also seen its fair share, including burglaries at local schools. And Billie Hicks says thieves frequently steal thousands of dollars worth of metal at a time from her salvage shop.

Billie Hicks, H&H Salvage: "I'm tired, I'm real tired of it, but I don't know what to do about it."

The state legislature has passed a bill that makes it more difficult for thieves to sell scrap metal to recyclers. But the governor has said he won't sign any new bills until lawmakers approve a budget.

The state bill would require recyclers to keep a photo and thumb print of anyone who sells scrap metal.

It would also force thieves to pay for the metal they stole and any damage they caused in the process.

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