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Police: Copper thieves strike construction site, community center

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 18, 2014, 3:18 p.m.

It’s not the amount of copper taken in a theft at the NATIVE Project building last week or the loss of one of the building’s heat sources that have Executive Director Toni Lodge concerned.

It’s the professional nature of the job.

“They had spray-painted the security camera lenses,” said Lodge, whose organization was one of four targeted by copper thieves in Spokane over the past week according to the Police Department. “They knew what they were doing.”

The NATIVE Project is out $5,000 after the culprits disassembled one of their air conditioning units with what Lodge described as surgical precision on Feb. 11. The machinery was in an alley near the West Central community center, Lodge said, hidden from view of passing traffic along nearby West Maxwell Avenue.

“We have eight cameras outside, eight cameras inside, a security company, motion-sensor lights,” Lodge said, listing off most of the suggestions Spokane police have made to thwart potential copper thefts. Insurance will cover the losses, but Lodge said the theft has thrown a speed-bump in the day-to-day operations of the cultural center that provides health services.

The organizaton is not the only one dealing with headaches caused by thieves.

On Sunday, thieves made off with more than $13,000 worth of copper from the future site of retail giant Target’s new South Hill location. Harnesses, copper wiring and plumbing equipment were taken in the incident, according to a news release from the Spokane Police Department.

In separate incidents, a business on East Sprague Avenue also had its external air conditioner broken into Friday by thieves and supply wires to a ventilation unit were stripped from a company on West Francis Avenue, police said.

Internal statistics show property crime this year is down 10 percent in Spokane over the same period last year, according to the news release, but police are warning business owners to step up their vigilance in thwarting future metal thefts.

They recommend security cameras, motion sensors and consistent, cut-resistant fencing, all measures Lodge said her organization had taken. She praised police for their response, stepping up patrols in the area and investigating their theft, in addition to the other incidents throughout Spokane.

Still, the experience has been jarring, Lodge said.

“The freaky thing is they scampered up high to get to the cameras, and they dissected (the air conditioner) with precision,” she said.

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