Recently, Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland (HBAMP) board member Jeff Smith of JT Smith experienced a job site theft similar to some hits he had several years ago. “It was exactly the same scenario,” he explains. “It has to be a team. They’re taking high-end appliances like Wolf ranges that can weigh up to 600 lbs and they do it without leaving a scratch.”
Although one of the leaders of the theft ring from a few years ago was caught and convicted, this year’s thieves appear to be using the same process. They break the lock or lockbox and then park their trucks in the garage and close it, shutting down all the lights. They meticulously remove all the doors, even leaving the hinges and screws in a neat little pile and gently leaning the doors against the wall. Appliances are expertly disconnected and removed on blankets so as to not scratch any floors or walls. “It’s almost like they care about the house,” says Smith. From there a clever transfer of merchandise through self-serve storage facilities made it difficult for law enforcement to track serial numbers.
Smith’s not the only builder the HBAMP has heard from recently reporting thefts. “We’ve heard back on thefts happening in Portland, Happy Valley and Washington County,” says Dave Nielsen, HBAMP CEO. “Including sophisticated crime rings like the one JT Smith has dealt with to the theft of job site materials, tools and other resources.”
The talk amongst Smith and other builders is that this is becoming more and more the cost of doing business. And, it’s not just the stripping of electrical wire or scrap metal to sell for a quick buck. “We had some production homes where something was stolen every night,” explains Smith. “The thief was using our equipment to load up our product and put it on their trailer — they appeared to be other contractors pilfering building supplies.”
Smith has come up with a clever way to get more eyes keeping watch over his sites. “We essentially deputize the neighbors — making them into our personal neighborhood watch. We introduce ourselves around and offer $50 Home Depot gift certificates to those willing to help us keep an eye. We explain to them that activity happening outside of regular work hours should be considered suspicious — that we are not in there building at night.” Smith says this has other benefits, too. “It’s always a good idea to be on friendly terms with the neighborhood you’re building in, anyway,” he laughs.
But, aside from Smith’s good neighbor recruiting, there are a number of ways to be more diligent and reduce job site theft. Smith does those too: adding more lights and signs reading “you’re on camera” are also part of his anti-theft arsenal. For more expensive, custom homes, he makes a security system part of a suite of smart home accessories, and then uses that system during the finishing stages to protect from appliance theft. These are particularly effective because there are no wires to be cut. “Don’t wait until it’s too late to make the investments in alarms,” cautions Smith.
Detective Jay Slezak at the Lake Oswego Police is handling a number of construction site theft cases. The most common are crimes of opportunity — thieves taking tools and resources left out at work stations in unfinished and unsecured structures, or on the back of a pick-up truck. “The best defense to theft is to have a secure space or construction staging area where equipment and tools are stored — providing a travel container or some kind of locked, immobile container would be a huge first step,” advises Slezak.
He also suggested the following security tips and measures to reduce theft:
Because so many thefts are a spontaneous event, lights are one of the biggest deterrents.
Put in anti-theft policy and practices in place for field employees
Develop a practice for installing appliances as close as possible to owner occupancy, or at least after the house is more open with subcontractors coming and going.
Know the serial numbers
Have a job site inventory system that tracks the serial numbers of important equipment and appliances. Law enforcement will need those to identify and recover your stolen goods off of common fence sites like Craigslist and through the pawn network of NCIC, the national stolen property tracking system. For appliances and equipment that stays with the home, this can become part of the warranty and hand-over documents to the homeowner
Slezak’s advice for contractors when they have experienced a theft is to make the call-in quickly — and to the correct jurisdiction. “If you actually want to recover your property, law enforcement needs to come to the site — and before anything is further disturbed by construction or weather-related issues,” explains the detective. “Just filing a theft report to get a case number for insurance reasons will not be sufficient for time to be put in on the case or to actually recover any of the stolen property.”
The HBAMP is asking that you report any theft or suspicious activity to the local law enforcement near your worksite, as well as to HBAMP staff member Megan Wever at 503-684-1880. “Contacting the HBA and the CICP helps coordinate jurisdictions and makes sure that there is cross communication. Also, those jurisdictions will contact us and we can notify members if something gets recovered,” explains Nielsen.
The HBAMP has partnered with the Construction Industry Crime Prevention Council (CICP) to provide members with information on best crime prevention practices, how they can minimize their risk as a target, protect their tools and equipment, and make it easier for law enforcement to catch thieves and recover their property. The CICP network includes contractors, trade associations, law enforcement agencies, scrap metal recyclers, community members and others. Since CICP’s founding in 1996, builders and contractors have reported more than $16 million in losses to the nonprofit; CICP has helped recover more than $5.3 million.
The HBAMP partnership with CICP provides CICP services at significantly discounted rates for HBAMP members. Additional information can be found at the CICP website: cicpp.com.