After their copper gutter downspouts were stolen about four years ago, a Silver Spring family installed surveillance cameras. Pointed at their driveway and front stairs, the cameras captured the mundane comings and goings of suburban Sligo Park Hills.
That was, until May 20 — when a gray-haired and somewhat portly white man in a t-shirt walked up the drive, hand in his pocket, at 9:56 a.m.
After ringing the doorbell and waiting for about a minute, the man can be seen walking down the steps.
With no one home, the man is then joined by another man – younger, darker skinned, and wearing a backwards Red Sox hat – and they commenced tearing down the copper gutter downspouts, throwing them in a white van, and ultimately driving off.
The brazen daylight burglary took all of 4 ½ minutes, enough time to grab what probably amounts to less than $200 worth of scrap copper. While precious metals have seen their prices climb to near-record levels, copper is worth about $4 per pound. After some ups and downs in the market, copper is at roughly the same price as when the same downspouts were stolen four years ago.
“I decided to put up the surveillance camers in case there were any more thefts,” one of the homeowners told me, speaking anonymously so as not to make the home a continuing target for theft. “I thought I was being excessively paranoid, but I guess I wasn’t.”
What can’t be seen in the video is the men actually yanking the downspouts down, but they can be seen scampering to the front of the house with armloads of copper. At one point, a car approaches on the street and the men hide, only to reappear after it passes.
Montgomery County police said theft of copper pipes and downspouts is something they see fairly regularly. Last year, also in May, county police reported that eight buildings, most of them churches, had been hit by a thief or thieves targeting copper.
Most of those thefts last year were in the evening or overnight hours, and detectives suspected the materials were being sold to area scrap yards for significant profit.
Generally, thieves often target metal components and valuable exterior items from homes that are left empty during the day. They also target vacant homes and homes under construction or renovation for tools, machinery, appliances and other items that have high resale values.
For the owners of the Silver Spring home, the theft is more of an inconvenience and an intrusion than anything else. The gutters cost about $1,500 to install after the theft four years ago, but the owners are probably going to put in aluminum next time to avoid the hassle.
“The beauty of an old house lies in details like blue aged copper gutters,” the homeowner said. “I’m not going to keep putting up thousands of dollars of copper for people to steal. They’re stealing the charm of the house and everyone’s peace of mind.”
The homeowners hope that their security video will help identify the men who stole the gutters and put a stop to their thefts. They ask anyone who recognizes the men or knows anything about the case to the Montgomery County Police Department at 301-279-8000. The case number is 11025881.