The Rev. Kevass Harding and his congregation at Dellrose United Methodist Church were ready for a celebration of the beginning of his 25th year at the Wichita church on the first Sunday of July.
But because of the theft of copper from the 10 air conditioning units surrounding the church, those plans are on hold.
“We don’t know if we’re going to or have to go virtual,” Harding said. “That kind of put a damper on that.
“They broke our hearts,” he added.
Harding said he felt the church was warm June 26 when he walked in for Sunday services. He asked one of the church council members to investigate and was told the copper and surrounding metal in the units were gone.
“As I got up to preach, I had to tell the congregation we had no AC because we’d been robbed,” Harding said. “Folks stayed, we had a good virtual crowd as usual, and then we called the police.”
Church offices remained open, although plans had to change for its daycare.
The church is at 1500 N. Dellrose, near the busy intersection of E. 13th and Oliver streets.
“In the area in which we live, our church is considered working middle class, but the neighborhood we’re serving immediately is paycheck-to-paycheck, below that poverty line,” Harding said.
Harding said he was waiting on insurance adjustors to get an idea of how much compensation Dellrose will receive. Once reinstalled, the AC units either will be put behind locked fences, he said, or put on the church roof.
The church has started a Go Fund Me page to raise whatever money insurance cannot.
However, “If a person really wants that copper, they’ll cut into (a fence). But it’s a deterrent,” he said.
Harding said the church, which only had one security camera aimed at its entrance, will be adding a surveillance system with cameras covering the air conditioners.
Sgt. Trevor McDonald, who works in larceny for the Wichita Police Department, said the theft at Dellrose was one of 17 involving churches in the city this year, and one of 300 thefts of copper air-conditioning parts from businesses and residences this year.
“With the increase in copper prices, we’ve seen increased pressure of thefts that are occurring with air-conditioner units across the city,” McDonald said. “That increase also includes an increase in churches.”
Copper, he said, sells for between $4.50 and $5 a pound, and five years ago was $2 a pound.
“These prices have been increasing over the last five to eight years, but we saw a steeper incline just before COVID,” McDonald said. “COVID seemed to exasperate the situation, and the supply chain shortages since COVID are further causing us problems.”
McDonald said that Dellrose has the right idea in increasing security.
“The No. 1 thing that has slowed down and stopped people from becoming repeat victims of these things are the people who have imposed cages made of fencing material around their air-conditioning units to limit the persons’ ability to get close to them,” he said.
He also suggests increasing the lighting around buildings, improving surveillance equipment, and clearing out shrubbery, trees or any other materials that give the would-be thieves ways to hide.
“The successful prosecutions we’ve had out of these are occurring because of cameras they’ve got on specific equipment,” McDonald said. “All of these things play a part to slow down or protect yourselves the best you can.”
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