Expert Commentary

Helping Law Enforcement Help You

If you have ever asked, or even thought, what more your local police department could do to help you prevent equipment theft or recover your stolen equipment then you should first ask yourself another question: "What can I do to help them?"


Equipment Theft Prevention
March 2006

If you think that filling out a theft report after your equipment has been stolen is as much as you can do then read on…

But let's first start with a reality check. Equipment security issues are not the number one policing priority in your area—nor should they be. Law enforcement resources are more stretched than ever as a result of budget cuts, Homeland Security demands, and, more recently, new public safety challenges stemming from the worst ever hurricane season. Because of the relatively few public safety resources that can be committed to equipment security, it is vital that they are used as efficiently and effectively as possible. Sadly, the opposite is normally the case.

There are, however, many things that can be done to help law enforcement to be more effective when dealing with equipment security and theft. In many cases, police do have some time to investigate equipment thefts, but it is limited and without the right knowledge and information the process will be time consuming and unsuccessful—and not happen again. Some of the challenges faced by law enforcement are discussed in a previous Expert Commentary, Heavy Equipment Theft and Solutions.

The best way in which equipment owners can help law enforcement is by providing information. Information is the key to a successful investigation, and it is equipment owners and their insurers who have the information that law enforcement needs. The challenge is to get that information into the hands of law enforcement when they need it.

There are different types of information that will help. Most officers know what it is but not always where to find it. By reaching out to law enforcement and helping to develop resources or simply letting police know what is available the chances are better that they will drive by your worksite over the weekend and stop to look at suspicious equipment.

What Information Is Needed?

There are two different types of information that will help: general information about equipment that will help an officer single out and identify stolen equipment and then there is information about single pieces of equipment such as where to find the identification number and who owns it that will help the officer identify the machine and its owner.

The first type of information is best delivered through training in the form of seminars or publications—both print and electronic. The idea is not to try to turn all officers into equipment experts, but to give them confidence, through a basic level of knowledge of equipment, about what are normal practices in the industry (and therefore what is suspicious) and where to go find more detailed answers.

The second type of information is best delivered through equipment industry specialists who can answer specific questions an officer might have about an individual piece of equipment—ideally at any time of day.

So the best way for you to help local law enforcement is to ensure that such training is provided on a regular basis and to inform officers about the different sources of information that will be able to answer their questions. Standard police training courses in academies and afterward are seldom afforded the time nor have the expertise to teach equipment investigation techniques. But whenever the insurance, construction, or equipment industries provide this training, it is well attended and received, and gives local equipment owners an excellent chance to make contact with local law enforcement with an interest in equipment crime.

There is a third type of information that might be described as "intelligence." For example you might let local police know about any big project in your area with valuable mobile equipment, particularly any that are hard to secure. But before you expect patrols to be routed to help reduce your risk, it is best to have first offered to help.

With this in mind, below are some practical steps that you can take to get the right information into the hands of law enforcement.

Training

You need a few simple elements to create a successful training program for local police:

  • A facility with a classroom and an area in which equipment can be displayed (a rental store with a big room or warehouse would work);
  • A lesson plan (see Resources below);
  • An expert in equipment investigation techniques (see Resources below);
  • A group of equipment owners who can meet the officers to discuss their concerns and offer help, and of course, a group of officers willing to spend a day learning about equipment.

All of these ingredients can be found in almost any community. You may have to bring in the instructor, but this can easily be done. If you are not lucky enough to have a local construction industry crime prevention program, then your local equipment owner association might be the best resource to help organize this. If you do not have such an organization, this training meeting may well lead to one being established. Future Expert Commentary articles will provide advice and a template for establishing a local equipment crime prevention program.

Equipment Information

Let's start with the basics. If you have a piece of equipment stolen without fully and accurately recording the serial number PRIOR to the theft, then you are not helping yourself or the police. Short of the thief accidentally trying to sell the equipment back to you or driving it past you on his way out of town, you will be out of luck.

A huge advantage for equipment thieves is that, until recently, law enforcement did not have quick, 24-hour access to ownership information for heavy equipment and theft reports often took days or weeks to get into the police computer due to delays in theft discovery. As most stolen equipment is being moved on weekends, and the theft often will not be discovered until Monday (at the earliest), there are only two ways in which this equipment can be identified. The first is if the thief has not yet had time to remove decals from the equipment.

TIP 1: Make sure that there are as many highly visible decals as possible on each machine that clearly show the name of the company that owns the equipment and—better still—include the telephone number so that the officer can call you to check that the equipment is where it should be.

TIP 2: Register your equipment by serial number and any other applied numbers on a national database that law enforcement uses to identify equipment. See the Resources list below for more information.

Funding Equipment Investigations

A very effective way to help police to focus on heavy equipment investigations is to get local equipment owners to club together to create an "equipment investigation fund." This money can then be put toward overtime during which the officers must focus on equipment investigations. It is, of course, vital that this be discussed formally with senior law enforcement in your area first and be executed in the way that they dictate. This liaison can normally be done by the detectives that are active in this area. This may seem extreme, but as long as it is formally organized at the right levels, it can be very effective. In one instance the American Rental Association of Texas raised $25,000 to fund equipment investigations during overtime and this resulted in the recovery of $1.2 million of stolen equipment!

Conclusion

The above ideas should really just be a starting point. The main thing is to reach out to local law enforcement and ask them how you can help them be more effective in combating equipment theft. You can then reach out to those listed in the Resources below to ask how best to deliver whatever is most needed. You will be surprised how effective this can be.


Resources
Crime Prevention Programs

These nonprofit organizations bring together law enforcement and equipment owners to share information that will help each other better combat equipment theft. Even if they are not currently in your area, these programs may provide some ideas for developing a similar local program.

Crime Prevention Program of the Pacific Northwest

Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program of Central California

Equipment Registration

National Equipment Register

Funded primarily by the insurance industry, NER manages a national database that records equipment theft data and allows equipment owners to register their equipment to make it available to law enforcement 24 hours a day. NER also provides instructors, lesson plans, and publications to support police training free-of-charge.

NER has partnered with FBI/LEEDA to develop regional equipment theft summits around the country to bring together equipment owners, insurers, and law enforcement. Summit details are posted here.

Equipment Owner Associations

All of these associations are helping their members combat theft in different ways that include local seminars, general advice, and, in some cases, inviting law enforcement to their annual expo for hands-on training. Your local chapter may be able to help you arrange training and liaison with local law enforcement.

American Rental Association

Associated General Contractors

National Utility Contractors Associations

American Road and Transport Builders Association


Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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