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Special Task Force Confronts Industry Epidemic

Wed February 16, 2000 - Northeast Edition
Richard Miller

It can be a contractor’s worst nightmare — having a brand new, $60,000 loader stolen from the job site. Equipment theft is a national problem, one that isn’t taken lightly by contractors, dealers, manufacturers and police departments across the country.

In fact, detectives from the Overland Park, KS, Police Department’s Property Crimes Unit noticed an increase in the number of equipment thefts at construction sites in December 1997. In response, the detectives reactivated the Heavy Construction Equipment Theft Task Force. Originally formed in 1990, the task force consisted of a team of regional law enforcement agencies, but as the group reformed representatives from the local electric utility, the Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City and the National Insurance Crime Bureau were asked to participate.

The task force decided to utilize a three-prong approach to reducing construction site crimes: (1) Advise the public that there would be a crackdown on this type of crime; (2) Work with contractors and builders on ways to better secure sites and property; and (3) Identify known offenders who specialize in the theft of heavy construction equipment.

The task force created a database of regional construction crimes and known suspects. Equipment information included Vehicle Information Number (VIN), serial number, model, year and make. Suspect information included name, race, date of birth, address and method of operation.

Armed with this information the task force, along with the Kansas Highway Patrol, established a truck and construction equipment checkpoint, with the idea of checking every piece of equipment and hauling vehicle in an effort to locate stolen equipment and materials. The Kansas Highway Patrol used the opportunity to look for overweight vehicles. Local media was advised in order to draw attention to the task force’s efforts.

The ongoing action of the task force has produced positive results. Between 1997 and 1999 there has been a 50 percent reduction in the number of reported heavy equipment thefts. The task force now meets regularly and provides training for other law enforcement agencies, on data entry, equipment identification and suspect profiling.

What can a contractor do to prevent theft? Unfortunately, theft cannot be prevented but steps can be taken to reduce theft and recover equipment if it is stolen.

In an effort to create a common identification process Case, Caterpillar, Deere and Ford, agreed to modify their identification and adopt a uniform standard 17 character Product Identification Number, (PIN). Additionally, the manufacturers agreed to install hidden PIN’s, along with standard defined serial plates. All new equipment models built after Jan. 1, 2000 will have this uniform identification and will meet National Crime Information Center standards.

Further information about the Heavy Construction Equipment Task Force can be obtained from Susan Wernicke of the Overland Park, Kansas, Police Department at 913/895-6000.

Further information regarding the National Insurance Crime Bureau can be obtained from Special Agent Paul Yonally at 913/339-6486.

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