This last year has hit all of us with a seemingly endless barrage of challenges. The effects of the pandemic have gone far beyond the physical impact of the infection itself and have assaulted almost every aspect of our everyday lives.

One result of such tumultuous times is a staggering uptick in crime – construction and rental crime included. Construction theft, and more specifically thefts that involve heavy equipment, present more than their fair share of challenges even in the best of circumstances. 

In addition to these inherent obstacles and the jump in crime, CPP has witnessed first-hand, the direct and very real impact the Covid-19 pandemic and widespread civil unrest has had on our partners in law enforcement. These impediments restrict their accessibility and further contribute to the existing hurdles they are forced to face with already limited resources.

It can be discomforting to think about this combination of the rise in crime, limited law enforcement resources, and the distinctive complications when dealing with, and reporting, heavy equipment. However, taking a moment to check in with the hand reality is dealing you and then raising your awareness of the potential complications is a huge step in the right direction. 

Nationwide, construction theft averages annually anywhere between $300 million and $ 1 BILLION dollars with California consistently ranking in the top 5 states for equipment theft. The recovery rate for stolen (and reported) heavy equipment averages between 20-30%. Compare that to the recovery rate for stolen automobiles (~80%), and it shines a very direct light on how problematic heavy equipment can be. 

Why is recovering heavy equipment so elusive? Where do I start?! But seriously, the number and nature of challenges can be a tad overwhelming. BUT – knowing what you’re up against and having a heightened awareness of the issues can go a long way in addressing the impediments. 

Here are just some of the challenges present when dealing with construction and heavy equipment theft:

  • How and where construction crime happens: From remote locations to busy freeways in plain sight where no one questions it; at sites that are closed for weekends and / or holidays, creating open invitations for thieves and causing delays in discovering the theft and completing a report: 
  • Rising crime and felony thresholds
  • Rise in fraud
  • A lack of available law enforcement resources
  • The mindset that theft is an “ac-ceptable loss” or simply the “cost of doing business” that results in thefts going unreported.
  • Identification numbers on equipment are complex, inconsistent (layout and placement), and overwhelming
  • Inaccurate or incomplete ownership records 
  • Confusion over which information is the best to include when reporting a theft
  • Uncertainty about what can – and should be reported

Inconsistency in identification numbers, as well as their varying layout and location are complicating factors and translate to a higher chance of incorrect information being provided when a loss is suffered, resulting in a much lower chance of recovery. Each unit will likely have an abundance of manufacturer’s numbers (PIN / VIN, serial number, engine number, etc.), and an owner will likely add even more (OAN, unit #, CARB, etc.). We can’t change how or where manufacturers mark their equipment, but we can appreciate the inherent complexities and choose how to make reality work for us instead of against us. Simply knowing that some numbers and information are substantially more helpful and knowing to have those numbers readily available when reporting a theft, can give you a leg up in the process. 

Showing up to a jobsite to discover that you’ve been a victim of a theft is a frustrating and sobering experience. The loss itself is just the beginning and what follows can put your system (and patience) to the test.

Imagine the frustration of realizing that the GPS you’re counting on to track and recover your stolen unit isn’t working or that the information you need to file a police report isn’t accessible. Considering the innumerable stumbling blocks that can pop up provides a necessary reality check that can lead to fewer opportunities of being kicked while you’re down.

Help avoid headaches down the road by making time to check out your prevention and theft protocols, inventory controls, security systems, and knowledge of who and how to ask for help before the Bad Guys strike. Verify that your inventory contains the most useful information for reporting a crime such as: 

  • Year / Make / Model
  • Vin / Pin / Serial Number
  • Value
  • Company Markings
  • Date/Time Of Theft
  • Photo Of Equipment
  • Suspect Information
    • Vehicle Information
    • Photo(s) of suspect(s)
    • Name on contract
    • Security camera footage
    • ID used
    • Credit card information

Further complicating things is a surge in crime, rising felony thresholds and extremely taxed / uncertain public resources.

Contractors that have been willing to accept theft as just another cost of doing business or possibly relying solely on their insurance coverage to recoup any losses are in for a rude awakening. Neglecting to take a proactive stance in preventing crime and working to potentially recover stolen equipment can also result in higher crime and rising policy rates. This type of complacency combined with a unique “perfect storm” of opportunities for people and groups with malicious intent has not gone unnoticed.

Criminal activity has surged and continues to climb while in some cases there are simultaneously fewer consequences being paid for these crimes. The public agencies we rely on for support have been hit with an unprecedented double punch that has threatened their resources and, in some cases, their ability to respond quickly to your call when you’ve been hit with a theft. Crooks are fully aware of the myriad of hindrances the good guys are up against and are giving it their all to capitalize on the unique reality we have found ourselves in.

Fear not, dear readers; all is not lost. We, in no way, must concede defeat and turn over the keys to our kingdoms, curl up in a ball or accept defeat. Bottom line? While there are a ton of things that can impede your plan for a trouble-free jobsite, deciphering which of them we can control, and finding ways to lessen the impact of those hindrances beyond our power, is half the battle. We can’t expect others to make our loss their priority if we’ve never made the effort to do the same. A healthy dose of realism and responsibility combined with an attitude of being proactive instead of reactive is our best defense and goes a long way in keeping reality in check.

By Melissa Somers, Executive Director, CPP SoCal Email: [email protected]