Old Orchard Beach police officers are fanning out through the Ocean Park neighborhood each shift to eventually check every one of the mostly seasonal homes for copper theft.

“We know that this is happening,” Lt. Tim DeLuca said of the thefts that can cost homeowners plenty in cash and aggravation. “We don’t want a seasonal property owner to arrive here and find their home is not operational because they suffered a theft.”

Last month, moderate to significant amounts of copper pipe were stolen from six Ocean Park homes, and outdoor shower heads were swiped from several others. In some cases, police are still trying to reach the property owners to get an idea of the extent and value of the theft, DeLuca said.

Ocean Park can represent an attractive target for thieves.

It’s largely empty during the winter, though there are year-round and winter residents scattered among the hundreds of shuttered homes.

The houses are often elevated on posts because of their proximity to the ocean and the potential for water damage. That makes it easy for thieves to scurry underneath them and cut away any exposed copper piping, while decorative lattice work keeps them out of sight.

“This could be happening right under our nose during the daytime,” DeLuca said.

Copper thefts had dropped off over the past two years as the recession caused copper prices to plummet. But the price of copper has climbed to $4.50 per pound, higher than pre-recession levels three years ago, though scrap sells for less than that.

And seasonal properties are at risk.

Thieves stripped $5,000 in copper from multiple buildings at a basketball camp in Casco last month, said Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce. That’s the replacement cost and does not include about $2,000 in labor to repair the camp, he said.

Investigators check with metal scrap yards after a theft, but it can be hard to differentiate stolen copper pipe from legitimate scrap. In past cases, thieves have even gone out of state to sell stolen copper.

In response to the recent thefts, Old Orchard Beach police have mobilized, checking each house from Union Avenue to Saco, and are asking residents to be vigilant.

There are about 650 homes in Ocean Park, said Ed Rea, executive director of the Ocean Park Association. Many are close together, but some are relatively isolated, he said. The association runs activities throughout the winter, but attendance is minimal compared to the vibrant summertime community, he said.

DeLuca said police are asking residents to call 911 if they see anything suspicious day or night, even if it just looks like someone doing construction work on a house.

“We’re not sure what time of day these are happening,” he said. “We’re trying to be as diligent as we can. Any observations made by our citizens are very helpful.” Detectives have strong leads in the cases, he said.

In recent weeks, officers have been climbing over snowbanks to inspect areas around houses, looking for signs of activity. Evidence of heavy foot traffic in snow turned up four additional thefts that had not been reported, he said.

“Ultimately, the goal is to catch someone in progress,” DeLuca said.

Year-round resident Helene Whittaker has been spreading the word in her role as Community Watch coordinator.

“I’m sure that in the spring when they come to open up their cottages and have the plumber come over to turn the water on, I believe there will be some surprises,” she said.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]