Police think a 41-year-old man is responsible for stealing copper from dozens of air-conditioning units around the city over the past several months.
The man was arrested Wednesday night after police said he stole the air conditioner from the house of a man working overseas, Capt. Jeff Easter said Friday.
Officers had been watching the man for several days after he was caught attempting to steal copper from a church in north Wichita late last month, and his red pickup had been linked to a reported theft at another church in April.
Police now think the man is responsible for 68 air-conditioner thefts dating back several months, Easter said. There may be more, he said, because police found parts that may be from unreported thefts.
Investigators have so far linked the man to thefts or attempted thefts at five churches in north Wichita, Easter said, and he is suspected in three cases at churches in south Wichita that occurred during the same period.
The scrap metal linked to the man was sold for $6,859, Easter said, but it will likely cost more than $100,000 to replace the stolen units.
All 68 air conditioners were taken to the same scrap metal dealer in the last three months a volume Easter said should have raised a red flag with the dealer, but apparently didnt.
Thats why were going to go talk to them, Easter said of the dealer, whom he would not identify.
Charges were not filed against the man after he was caught last month because the church that was victimized did not want to prosecute a move Easter called frustrating.
Church leaders wanted to display forgiveness by not pressing charges, he said, but it left the man free to continue stealing air conditioners.
Its not clear whether the man knew anything about the occupants of the house in the 11100 block of East Pawnee, just west of Greenwich Road, Easter said. But he added that it was very obvious to the officers that no one had been at the house for some time.
Easter said anyone who has chosen not to report when their air conditioner was stolen or vandalized should notify police. Not only will it give investigators a more accurate indication of a possible crime trend, they may be able to solve crimes previously unreported.