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Construction Equipment Theft on the Decline

Wed October 05, 2011 - West Edition
Erik Pisor

Construction equipment theft activity in the United States is declining on a yearly basis. In 2010 a total of 6,474 pieces of heavy construction and farm (non-mower) equipment were stolen — an 8 percent decrease in theft activity compared to 2009 (7,044 thefts), and a 23.8 percent decline compared to 2008 figures (8,496 thefts).

Of the 6,474 pieces of heavy equipment stolen in 2010, the two most popular types of machinery nabbed were loaders (1,362 stolen) and wheel-type tractors (1,286 stolen). A total of 551 backhoes, 437 backhoe loaders, 361 forklifts, 299 excavators, 255 track-type tractors, and 182 bulldozers also were swiped, according to a National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) report released in early September.

The majority of stolen equipment is pilfered from job sites. Individual sites that are remotely located or feature minimal fencing, no video surveillance, or lack of a night watchman are more prone to theft.

“Those in the business of stealing equipment know what’s under construction and what specific equipment will be on a job site [during different stages of construction],” said Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for NICB, adding thefts occasionally occur at rental yards or company headquarters.

Stolen heavy equipment is typically loaded onto a trailer or into a large, covered mobile container by thieves. Following a heist, it is rare for equipment to be parted out similar to a stolen car or truck.

“The value of heavy equipment is in the complete unit,” Scafidi said.

In 2010, 28 percent — or roughly 1,812 — of the 6,474 pieces of heavy equipment stolen were recovered.

Of the 1,362 loaders and 1,286 wheel-type tractors pilfered, 365 loaders and 325 tractors were recovered. Boasting the best recovery rate of any equipment type was the backhoe, as 230 stolen backhoes were recovered — a 41.7 percent retrieval rate.

Stolen equipment is often shipped abroad, as the NICB — who has a foreign operations division — has recovered stolen machinery in other countries and intercepted equipment at ports prior to overseas shipment.

According to Scafidi, a significant percentage of equipment stolen within larger metro areas is reused in the same vicinity, typically on someone’s remote property.

“If someone steals a little backhoe and someone who has a lot of property needs it, really who’s going to look for it,” he questioned.

When eyeing equipment theft by brand name, John Deere was the number one target of thieves, as 1,233 pieces of machinery carrying the Deere name were stolen. Other popular brands included Caterpillar (868 thefts), Melroe (818 thefts), and Kubota (714 thefts.) Equipment carrying those four brand names accounted for 3,633 of the 6,474 thefts reported — or 56.1 percent.

Newer equipment was the target of most thieves, as 2005 to 2010 model year machinery represented nearly 52 percent of all equipment stolen.

Theft By Location

With 1,023 thefts reported, Texas was the number one state for heavy equipment thefts in 2010 followed by California (550), Florida (525), North Carolina (307), Georgia (276), South Carolina (259), Oklahoma (250), Maryland (188), Ohio (180) and Alabama (178). These states accounted for 3,736 of the 6,474 thefts reported, or 57.7 percent.

In 2010, the three states with the highest amount of stolen equipment also had the most recoveries, lead by California who boasted 253 recoveries — good for a 46 percent return rate.

In Texas, 239 pieces of machinery were recovered, followed by Florida, with 152 returns.

The top five cities with the most thefts last year were Miami (130), Houston (121), Phoenix (62), Conroe, Texas (59), and Las Vegas (59). The report found that half the cities in the top 10 were located in Texas.

In an attempt to aid equipment owners from future losses, the NICB provided a number of theft prevention tips within the report including:

• Install hidden fuel shut-off systems.

• Remove fuses and circuit breakers when equipment is unattended.

• Render equipment immobile or difficult to move after hours or on weekends by clustering it in a “wagon circle.” Place more easily transported items, such as generators and compressors, in the middle of the circle surrounded by larger pieces of equipment.

• Maintain a photo archive and a specific list of the PIN and component part serial numbers of each piece of heavy equipment in a central location. Stamp or engrave equipment parts with identifying marks, numbers or corporate logos.

• Use hydro locks to fix articulated equipment in a curved position, preventing it from traveling in a straight line.

• Use sleeve locks to fix backhoe pads in an extended position, keeping wheels off the ground. CEG

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