Kai Ryssdal: Remember all the stories a couple of years ago about people stealing copper? They were breaking into construction sites and utilities storage facilities and stealing copper by the pound. Here's the 2012 version of the story. There's a growing trend of beauty supply store break-ins. They don't want the cash or extra conditioner. They come for the hair.
Jim Burress reports from WABE in Atlanta.
Jim Burress: Lexi's Beauty Supply isn't a big store. But the long, dark, silky lock of hair owner Madilyn Roberts holds in her hand is big business.
Madilyn Roberts: This is the top-of-the-line hair. It's very expensive. Just this piece right here, this is probably 22 inches. That right there is going to run about $160-170.
You'll need two for a full weave. That's more than $300. Hair extensions are still en vogue. That's largely why Roberts opened her shop here less than a year ago. Even then, there were often stories about burglars hitting hair weave shops. They all kind of played out the same way. A U-Haul truck plows through a glass storefront, then masked men jump out and head right for the hair.
Roberts: We knew that robberies were going on -- burglaries I should say -- all over Atlanta for the hair. But, you just don't think on such a main street across from a 24-hour McDonald's, you just don't think they're going to be that bold.
They were. Three weeks after opening, bandits threw a brick through the front window. They were in and out in a minute. The burglary cost Roberts about $6,000.
Roberts: And the heck of it is that the first couple of months that we were open, we left the lights on like this all night. So it was very bright in here. So they were bold.
Maj. Randell Robinson of the Atlanta Police Department agrees the perpetrators are bold. He says officers had just gotten a hand on a similar string of thefts. Those involved blue jeans. Then, the hair weave heists started.
Randell Robinson: It was like, "Wow, they're taking hair weaves?!"
Maj. Robinson sees hair as just the next hot commodity.
Robinson: Criminals decided, 'Well, hey, if we can tap into that market -- this is a way for us to do it.'
Hair weaves are nearly impossible to track. So crooks often pull up to a local park, open the trunk, and quickly sell their goods. And unlike drugs, police can't arrest someone just for having a lot of hair in their car. Hair thefts aren't just an Atlanta thing. In the past year, crooks have gotten away with $10,000 worth in San Diego. A Houston salon lost $150,000 in one break-in.
Back at Lexi's Beauty Supply, owner Madilyn Roberts has given her store a makeover. She's installed bullet-proof glass, and hired a security guard. That's what police call "target hardening." And the only hair left at the store overnight are extensions called "Yaki." They're only $20 a package.
Roberts: If they want to go to jail over cheap hair, that's on them.
At least four hair thieves have gone to jail. Apparently, they were so focused on the smash and grab they didn't notice the cop working security at the Waffle House next door.
In Atlanta, I'm Jim Burress for Marketplace.