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An increase in thefts of air conditioners and other metal items has the Charles County Sheriff’s Office turning up the heat and looking to the community to help prevent future thefts.

According to information in a release from the sheriff’s office, air conditioners are becoming hot items to sell for cash.

Steven Bell, facility manager for Potomac Metals in Waldorf, said that an air-conditioning unit, if broken down properly, could be worth about $80.

Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Diane Richardson said that this is not a new problem, but one officers are taking a new attitude toward.

Richardson said the thefts typically occur at vacant homes but that there are occasions where occupied homes become targets.

Vacant or not, the sheriff’s office emphasizes that there still are consequences.

“Even though most of these thefts are occurring at vacant homes, it doesn’t mean that it’s any less of a crime,” Sheriff Rex Coffey (D) said in a release. “Someone still has to pay for it, whether it’s the homeowner or insurance companies. We want to make sure residents know what to look for and understand how these thieves operate so that we can put a stop to it.”

Coffey said there already have been many arrests made but that the sheriff’s office is seeking help from the community.

“We are counting on our communities — who are already very good to us — to help us out.”

Coffey encouraged everyone to be a “nosy neighbor.”

A recent incident resulted in catching thieves based on a homeowner’s hunch.

On June 24, officers went to a call for suspicious activity at a La Plata home. The homeowner called the sheriff’s office to report that two people knocked on his front door and asked for someone else. When the homeowner explained that there was no one there by the name given, the couple left.

The suspiciousness of the situation convinced the homeowner to write down the tag number from the couple’s car. Shortly after, he walked around the outside of his home and noticed his air conditioner had been tampered with and was sitting near his carport.

Detectives quickly tracked the couple down and learned that they were serial thieves.

“That call made a difference, and it’s exactly what we want our residents to do,” Coffey said in the release.

Defectives said that in some cases, people will target houses that are occupied; someone will knock on a resident’s door and provide an excuse as to why they are there if someone answers the door.

The excuses used include asking for directions or saying a dog ran behind the home or the person is looking for someone.

If no one answers, they go to the backyard and swipe the air-conditioning unit or break in to the home to steal metal piping or other items.

Richardson said that the sheriff’s office is asking for more nosy neighbors.

She said that often after a theft, officers will canvass the neighborhood and hear people say they saw something out of the ordinary but didn’t call.

“We’re trying to reach out to these people and say it’s OK to call us no matter what happens,” Richardson said.

Anyone with information regarding these types of thefts is asked to call Crime Solvers at 866-411-TIPS. All callers remain anonymous. If a tip leads to an arrest, the caller could get a cash reward of up to $1,000.

“By working with our residents, I believe we can apprehend these criminals much faster,” Coffey said in the release.

gphillips@somdnews.com