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'We're a church, not a landfill': Local church battles copper thieves, illegal dumping

Posted at 7:11 PM, Mar 29, 2021

TULSA, Okla. — A local church on the rebound from the pandemic is now dealing with people dumping trash and stealing copper from their property.

HOPE Center Church in west Tulsa had to shut down last year. In the process of coming back to life, they hope not to be known as a landfill or an easy target of copper thieves.

“We want to help people find hope in their life,” Dusty Giles said, HOPE’s senior pastor.

The church puts a special emphasis on children. They feed about 60 kids and teens every Wednesday.

“We want to help kids become good citizens,” Giles said.

Even if they have to get through all the trash to do it.

“We’ve had a lot of problems with just people coming in with vandalism and throwing trash around. We’ve found needles on our ground,” Giles explained in the back alley of the church.

That is also where three AC units sit behind a now open enclosure. Copper thieves broke through the fencing and ripped out the piping from each unit.

“Now we have to repair all of our conditioners and it comes with a pretty hefty price tag,” Giles said.

The spending does not stop there. They will have to re-fence the enclosure for the AC units and the church’s back alley. They want the trash dumping to stop.

“We don’t want to be hard on people but we’re out here taking care of kids,” Giles said. “We can’t let them come out here and play because we don’t know what’s on the ground.”

Another thing, cameras will be set up. They help police identify copper theft suspects. Officers said the crime mostly happens at night.

“We’re not going anywhere. Eventually we’re going to catch up to them,” Lt. Josh Goldstein said.

He works the street crimes unit of the Gilcrease Division. One of Goldstein’s investigators sees 5-10 copper theft cases a day. He said they happen primarily to businesses and churches under construction.

There is a bill police officers are hoping passes the state legislature. They believe Oklahoma House Bill 1001 will help them in their fight against copper thieves.

HB 1001 is also known at the Sgt. Craig Johnson Metal Theft Act. It would require metal buyers or dealers to keep digital records of transactions. Also, sellers would need to provide official documentation of their metal product.

The bill is currently making its way through the legislative process.

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