Copper thefts from several unfinished homes in the Fieldstone subdivision in western Forsyth County are the latest examples of a recent crime trend, authorities say.
Unfortunately, Forsyth County Sheriff's Sgt. Jonathan Neville said, builders often are the victims.
"It's just an ongoing issue," Neville said. "And until the price of copper comes back down, especially with gas prices the way they are, I fear there's just going to be more.
"They're very tough cases to solve, unfortunately. Unless there's a witness or there's some obvious piece of evidence left on scene, they're very, very difficult to solve."
According to sheriff's reports, the thefts in Fieldstone occurred between July 5 and July 7. They were reported by an employee of Pulte Homes, with the loss estimated at $3,500.
The investigating deputy reported that someone had removed the air conditioning copper line sets from the houses.
Citing the lack of witnesses and physical evidence, Neville said the investigation has stalled.
"All we can ask is that when (builders) do have exposed copper like that that they try to either have security or notify the sheriff's office and request additional patrol, that kind of thing, until the houses are occupied," he said.
Neville, who is assigned to the department's south precinct, said Neighborhood Watch groups in the area have been notified of the thefts and asked "to keep an eye out for anything that appears to be out of place."
It appears builders aren't the only ones affected by the statewide crime trend.
According to a Georgia Power news release, the average price of a pound of copper has risen nearly 200 percent in the past two years.
As the price increases, the utility has "seen a steady correlated increase in the number of thefts, attempted thefts and break-ins at substations, from the poles themselves and other property locations."
The statement goes on to show that the number of wire case thefts investigated by Georgia Power, which serves parts of Forsyth County, increased more than 500 percent between 2005 and 2007 and losses increased more than 600 percent.
Neville said someone caught outside a home removing air conditioner lines, such as in the Fieldstone case, could be charged with theft. If the value stolen exceeds $500, that charge is a felony.
Those caught inside a residence could face burglary charges, which Neville said "would be the most severe you could get in a theft type of situation."
Burglary charges can also apply if suspects are caught inside houses that have a roof or a frame but are still under construction.
Neville said the copper often is sold to recycling businesses or salvage yards. With more than 50 metal recyclers in the metro Atlanta region, it's hard to recover the stolen property.
"A lot of times, they'll burn all the insulation off of it (to get more money) and sometimes they'll try to get creative and crush it or cut it up into small pieces and smash it up so it's not quite as obvious to the recycler," he said.