February 14, 2005

Ontario Road Builders’ Association convention

Equipment theft crusader says owners must be more proactive

Given that theft is becoming a growing problem, owners must become more proactive in protecting their heavy construction equipment and implementing site security training, says consultant George Kleinsteiber.

He told the 78th annual convention of the Ontario Road Builders’ Association that 365 pieces of construction equipment were stolen last year in the greater Toronto area alone, up from 333 in 2003.

Only 54 of these machines were recovered.

To make matters worse, the retired Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer said that several police agencies in the province have downsized their auto theft sections in the last year. In January 2003, the Toronto Police Service completely disbanded that squad.

Now, Kleinsteiber said, these agencies only conduct investigations when information is handed to them “and even then, it is turned over to officers with no experience in the area of vehicle theft investigation.

“Police agencies will not dispatch an officer to take a theft report of a piece of heavy equipment,” Kleinsteiber said. “They now either take the information over the phone or ask you to attend the station to fill out a theft report.

'Police agencies will not dispatch an officer to take a theft report of a piece of heavy equipment'

George Kleinsteiber

“Over 65 per cent of the time, owners do not have full information to provide to the police when they call to report the theft.”

Kleinsteiber, who was responsible for investigating heavy equipment thefts during his 18 years in the OPP’s auto theft section, said owners should give due consideration to purchasing some sort of anti-theft or tracking system — not only for newly purchased equipment but also for equipment already in operation on a daily basis.

“Because heavy equipment retains its value for a much longer period of time, thieves do not necessarily steal new equipment,” he said. “Rather, old equipment is usually easier to steal with less risk of getting caught.”

No tracking device

Only 34 of 365 pieces stolen in the GTA in 2004 had some type of anti-theft or tracking device installed.

Kleinsteiber, who now provides consulting services to the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association, said popular items with thieves include skidsteers, backhoes — particularly those with quick-release attachments — mini-excavators and track equipment.

“Size does not matter in this (track equipment) group,” he told the roadbuilders. “Several large machines have been stolen during daylight hours in built-up areas.”

Kleinsteiber, who set up his own company called Heavy Metal Consultants after retiring from the police force in 2000, outlined some steps that contractors can take to help stop thefts from their sites.

They should:

•Ensure that all equipment is secured properly at the end of the day or on weekends. Most thefts occur between 6 p.m. and midnight and between Friday evening and Monday morning.

• Have all employees share in the responsibility of securing tools and the equipment that they operate.

• Put someone in control of equipment keys. Make sure keys are not left in the foreman’s truck when he goes home.

•Have operators bring equipment to a common site before weekends rather than leaving it scattered about a large construction site.

• Ensure that proper locks are installed on storage containers and that keys are not left there.

Kleinsteiber, currently president of the northeast chapter of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators, further suggested that equipment owners would be well advised to have a welder inscribe their company name on buckets, boom and frame.

“Not only will this allow the police to be able to determine 24 hours a day who owns the machine, but it also will deter thieves from stealing the equipment,” he said.

“Criminals don’t like stealing something that has such obvious identifiers on it as the owner’s phone number. Because an inscribed item is so difficult to grind off, it makes the equipment less desirable and thieves will look elsewhere.”

Poor recovery rate

Construction firms can also protect trailers from theft, Kleinsteiber said, by using a pintle-hitch lock. Thousands of trailers are stolen, repainted and sold, he said. The recovery rate is five per cent.

Kleinsteiber, who regularly updates equipment manufacturers on the problems and concerns of both contractors’ and police officers, had some parting words of advice for the roadbuilders:

“If you drive a company vehicle home, do not leave equipment keys or other items locked inside the cab overnight,” he said. “Thieves have been targeting company pickup trucks parked in residential neighbourhoods.

“They break in and steal keys for both equipment and storage containers.”

Construction companies also should not leave equipment unprotected in boxes, Kleinsteiber added.

“Many pieces of valuable equipment such as jumping jacks, laser transit kits and chop saws have been stolen right out of the box during the midnight hours.”

During his presentation, Kleinsteiber also provided some tips on what to do if a theft does occur on a construction site.

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