Dozens of propane tanks stolen from Gadsden stores

As news broke last week about a propane shortage, some people turned to illegal avenues to get it.

Gadsden police said thieves stole several dozen tanks from gas station convenience stores and a pair of Dollar Generals.

Property crimes investigator Patrick Chumley said someone cut the locks on the cages that house the tanks.

"I never had anything like this come up before," Chumley said.

"Usually people that need it--it's plentiful and cheap--they're usually able to get it legally.{} I've never had them steal propane before."

Chumley said even people who use propane for illegal activities tend to buy it from a store.{} Investigators initially suspected these thefts were for criminal use.

"At first I thought they were probably being used at a meth lab or maybe moonshining operations," he said.

"But after we found out about the governor calling the state of emergency for the shortage of propane and [liquefied petroleum] gas, we pretty much figured some people are stealing it just to stay warm."

That might explain the theft of two tanks from one store on Gilberts Ferry Road.{} It is less likely that the 18 tanks taken from a Shell service station on Noccalula Road are for personal use.

Chumley said the people who took the tanks are probably reselling them.{} However, police informants said they have not yet heard of any instances of street-level propane sales.

So far there are no leads.{} The thieves avoided being caught on tape.{}{}{}{}

"The only thing I could suggest to the store owners and everything is keep a camera on it so we might be able to get an image of somebody so we could put it out and maybe find who's stealing it," Chumley said.

Investigators said the culprits are keeping their thefts to misdemeanor amounts.{} A new or spare tank of propane costs on average about $50, while a refill or exchange for a new tank costs $20 to $25.{} Chumley said in totaling the amount stolen, police can only count the trade-in value, and it takes $500 for a felony case.