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Equipment Theft Steals Center Stage at Mississippi Seminar

Tue July 05, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Maybelle G. Cagle



A regional summit in Jackson, MS, June 21 gave participants a comprehensive look at heavy equipment thefts, which cost owners, rental companies and insurers an estimated $1 billion annually.

Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin and Agriculture Commissioner Lester Spell hosted the summit at the Agricultural Museum. It was sponsored by the FBI-LEEDA and the National Equipment Register (NER).

Approximately 110 people attended from the following states: Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Colorado, Florida, Tennessee and Missouri.

NER is a national database of stolen heavy equipment managed by equipment specialists who coordinate the efforts of equipment owners, the insurance industry and law enforcement in the fight against heavy equipment theft.

NER opened for business in New York in 2001 following a three-year research project. Full operations were achieved in 2002.

The company works with owners in three major areas: theft prevention, equipment recovery and used equipment searches.

“It’s a serious problem. Thieves have the upper hand,” said David Shillingford, NER president, who presented much of the information.

He said equipment is taken because, “the reward for the thief far outweighs the risk taken.”

According to Shillingford, even if an arrest is made, a conviction may not be secured or if there is, a conviction the penalty may be light.

Steve Pickett, a spokesman of the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office, said his boss was at a national conference of the Law Enforcement Executive Development Association when the topic of regional training came up from NER.

“The sheriff [who is president of FBI-LEEDA] invited them to Mississippi,” added Pickett.

The next summit is scheduled in San Bernadino, CA, July 10.

“We’re planning to do 10 summits,” said Shillingford.

Shillingford said he was pleased with the turnout for the Jackson summit, the first conducted by the group. Other summits, so far, are planned in Texas and Florida.

He told participants that as little as 10 percent of stolen equipment is recovered, because it can be complex to identify heavy equipment, the lack of accurate data on missing and stolen equipment for law enforcement and the absence of a mechanism for buyers to check used equipment before purchasing it.

“Equipment is designed for productivity rather than security,” said Shillingford.

Another problem, pointed out Shillingford, is that “there are no laws mandating titling or registering heavy equipment.”

Law enforcement authorities often have trouble investigating heavy equipment thefts for several reasons including “difficulty gaining legal or physical access to equipment, varied locations of PIN [Product Identification Numbers], time delay in theft discovery by owner and the absence or inaccuracy of theft reports,” said Shillingford.

Who Steals the Equipment?

Shillingford said types of thieves include people joy riding, people in the construction business and, sometimes, people on drugs.

The reasons given for stealing heavy equipment, said Shillingford, are “the high value of heavy equipment, consistent demand for heavy equipment, low site and vehicle security, remote and unobserved worksites and the low risk of detection, arrest and prosecution.”

Statistics, according to Shillingford, show the top states having the most equipment stolen are Texas, Florida, California, North Carolina and Alabama.

“Wherever there is equipment, I think it’s at risk across the board,” said Shillingford. “If a thief thinks they’re more likely to get caught they’ll go somewhere else.”

Research by NER shows the 10 most commonly stolen pieces of equipment are: wheel loaders, skid steer loaders, backhoe loaders, agricultural tractors, dozers, forklifts, trenchers, utility carts, generators and compressors.

Shillingford offered several theft prevention tips including:

• Registering equipment with a national registry such as NER, and applying warning decals; recording any and all numbers on the unit from actual plates/decals, including engine numbers.

• Using chain link fencing which allows thieves to be visible from outside the property/site.

Eddie Robinson, who attended from the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office where he is part of the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB), found the summit helpful. He said the thefts he encounters involve generators and tools from construction sites.

Robinson’s unit has successfully recovered equipment such as a stolen tractor. The CIB also recovered heavy equipment taken by a former police officer.

The summit offered several general sessions on the equipment theft problem, equipment theft prevention and the latest in equipment security technology. Afternoon classes provided instruction in equipment identification techniques and in-depth theft prevention training. While no private owners attended, there were several public works departments represented.

Several vendors attended the Jackson summit including Bryan Witchery, of The Equipment Lock Company from Hedgesville, WV.

“We want to do anything we can to train and educate people about what to watch for,” he said.

Witchery’s company, which sells universal theft protection locks for construction equipment, trucks and trailers, will be at the summit in California and at as many other summits as possible.

Representatives from Qualcomm, LoJack and DeWalt offered the latest information on equipment security technology. Qualcomm offers complete, integrated wireless solutions for construction equipment management. LoJack installs a small, silent transmitter hidden in equipment. LoJack automatically becomes activated when a stolen vehicle police report is filed. When LoJack is activated, police can track and recover stolen equipment. DeWalt markets a portable wireless alarm system designed for use on the construction job site.

Dionne McLaughlin, a spokesperson of NER, said the data speaks for itself when it comes to determining whether her company is making a difference in recovering equipment.

“Over 350 insurance companies send us their losses, more than 2,000 rental branches register their equipment and send in losses to be placed on our database; we have thousands of officers searching our database; training programs in various parts of the United States; and we help make hundreds of recoveries worth nearly $5 million [since 2002],” she said.

Most of those at the seminar were law enforcement officials.

“There is a major focus on law enforcement. We want to give them the tools to better serve equipment owners and them to recover more machines,” McLaughlin said.

The summit in San Bernadino, CA, will be a little different from Jackson, said McLaughlin, “in that we are expecting more owners to attend and more vendors. This will make the afternoon session a little different than the summit in Jackson.”

For more information about NER, visit www.NERusa.com or call 212/297-1805.CEG

Caption:Bryan Witchery, of The Equipment Lock Company in Hedgesville, WV, was among vendors at a recent equipment theft seminar conducted by the National Equipment Register. The seminar in Jackson, MS, attracted more than 100 law enforcement officers from several states.