A historic church in downtown Washington lost part of its protection against lightning late last month as a result of a type of crime that has been widely reported in recent months in the Washington area and around the nation. The crime is copper theft.
In one hard-hit area, Prince William County, two copper thefts were reported to police last week. Someone had taken apart an air-conditioning unit outside a house in Dumfries and stolen copper components, police were told Oct. 5. In the same county, police received a report Oct. 3 of the theft of piping from a water heater and washing machine from a house in the Woodbridge/Dale City area.
Those incidents followed eight reports of copper piping stolen from houses in the county last month and 13 thefts or attempted thefts of copper piping from houses in the county in August.
Authorities have linked the crimes to the price paid for scrap copper, which, according to charts available online, was more than $4 a pound at times during the summer. It has since fallen closer to $3. Even so, copper remains an attractive target for would-be burglars, thieves and vandals who have sawed off pipes, snipped electrical wires and, in at least one case, removed a statue from a cemetery.
Copper thefts have caused gas leaks and thousands of dollars in water damage in Prince William and darkened streetlights on at least one road in the District, as well as triggering damage and inconvenience across the nation.
Lightning protection was impaired at Calvary Baptist Church at Eighth and H streets NW near the Chinatown/Gallery Place area of downtown. Paul Rosstead, the church’s business manager, said he noted in late September that someone had cut off a length of the grounding cable that helps shield the church from a lightning strike on the steeple.
The cable is designed to divert the charge from a lightning strike safely into the ground. But the lowest visible three feet of the cable — the last section before the cable descends into the ground — had been snipped off, Rosstead said.
“It’s a pretty dangerous situation,” he said.