Protecting Your Business: Effective Equipment Theft Deterrent Strategies - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Protecting Your Business: Effective Equipment Theft Deterrent Strategies

You invest a significant amount in your fleet and equipment, and the last thing you want to deal with are thefts that impact your crew’s ability to work.

Implementing a number of deterrent strategies, as well as best practices for equipment recovery, can help reduce these occurrences.

Teddy Russell, CEO of Russell Landscape Group, based in Sugar Hill, Georgia, says they had 27 thefts in 2022 and 16 in 2023.

“In 2022, thefts were consistently bad from March through December, with an average of three occurrences per month,” Russell says. “In 2023, May-August were the worst months, with the average of three occurrences per month.”

Commonly Stolen Equipment

Russell says small equipment theft is what they encounter the most.

“We have had a lot of catalytic converters stolen over the past two years,” Russell says. “However, smaller equipment seems to be the main target. Trucks, trailers and large equipment theft happen very infrequently at one or less per year.”

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, mowers (riding or garden tractors) were the most common style of equipment stolen in 2022 with 3,019 thefts.

When it comes to heavy equipment, Ryan Shepherd, director & general manager of crime analytics and supply chain solutions for Verisk, says thieves prefer to target machinery that can be used in multiple operations, making skid steers the number one stolen type of heavy equipment.

Verisk hosts the National Equipment Register, which was designed to facilitate information sharing with insurers, equipment owners, and law enforcement. Their database records equipment theft and more than 25 million ownership records.

“You can fit them on a small job trailer or utility trailer and they can be loaded up within a minute or two,” Shepherd says. “People have reported to us, ‘We’ve been on job sites, went around back behind a big structure or building, came back five minutes later and the skid steer is gone.’ It’s really that easy to steal those smaller assets.”

Backhoes and utility tractors are other commonly stolen machines due to their versatility with different attachments. Shepherd says there is a huge black market for these pieces of equipment as there are various industries and end users who would purchase them at an auction or off eBay.

Where and When Thefts Occur

The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that equipment theft has decreased by 1% nationally compared to 2021.

Shepherd says the areas where theft is more common are states with large populations and access to ports or borders where the machines can be moved out of the country. Typically, a piece of equipment is sent overseas or it stays local.

Texas has the highest number of equipment thefts, accounting for 21% of all thefts in the United States in 2022. California had the second-highest number of thefts in 2022 at 1,555, which is 48% lower than Texas’s total, according to the NICB.

Texas, California, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Indiana are the top 10 states for equipment theft and account for 65% of all equipment thefts in the United States in 2022.

Russell notes they’ve had most of their thefts occur while crews are in the field. The catalytic converter thefts take place after hours. Shepherd says when the thefts occur depends on how hardened the facility is. He says theft activity is more common on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and around holidays.

Theft Deterrent Strategies

The NCIB recommends having a layered approach of methods to help prevent theft. The first layer is to ensure that your team is employing basic protection measures: locking doors, removing keys from the ignition, and tracking where equipment is stored.

“If you can take it back to your shop and put it behind the gate or put it in a garage, you’re well ahead of everybody else,” Shepherd says.

Be aware of your surroundings, as certain environments can be more troublesome when it comes to theft. Shepherd recommends having a way to check in and out your handheld tools. Russell says they conduct frequent audits to see if anything is missing.

Russell Landscape Group makes a point of locking their equipment at all times when it’s not in use and brings their smaller equipment inside the shop at night. They are in the process of adding surveillance cameras and electric fences to all of their branches.

“Any method is better than no method to deter the thieves,” Russell says. “Not being vigilant with locking small equipment because if it’s sitting out unlocked and unattended, that is not very effective security and things will come up missing.”

The second layer is to have a visible or audible device. This includes using audible alarms, steering wheel or brake pedal locks and identification markers. The third layer includes using a vehicle immobilizer in the form of smart keys, fuse cut-offs and kill switches.

Shepherd says utilizing disabling technology on your equipment can be particularly useful if you have a smaller fleet.

The fourth layer is to invest in a tracking system. This technology can alert you to equipment being removed from a geofenced location and it is easier to recover stolen machinery.

Russell says they use Quartix for GPS tracking and Asset Panda to tag equipment to a truck. This allows them to keep track of the model and serial numbers of all the small equipment assigned to a truck.

“Whatever techniques or whatever protocol you come up with, as an owner of a business, it’s important to give your employees time to implement those strategies for you,” Shepherd says.

For example, if one of your strategies requires employees to circle the equipment and create a ring around smaller machinery, give them enough time at the end of the day to do so within their working hours. Shepherd says it shows them that you’re serious about it. You shouldn’t expect them to do it on their own time.

Russell adds you need to continually train your team on the proper processes to prevent theft and have written documents of these processes.

Recovering Stolen Equipment

The NICB says that 30% of equipment stolen in 2022 was eventually recovered, with forklifts and lift trucks being the vehicle type that has the highest recovery rate with 38%. Russell says they recover one out of every 50 items stolen.

“It is really difficult for law enforcement to track and recover these assets,” Shepherd says. “Just as an example, when we’re talking about automobile recoveries, it’s about 70%. Seven out of every 10 cars that are stolen get found. With construction equipment, it’s around 20%, so only two out of 10 come back to the owner or to the insurance company.”

Shepherd adds that vehicles are more commonly recovered because it is much harder to sell a car that’s been stolen due to the required paperwork. Heavy equipment doesn’t require ownership paperwork and auctions don’t typically ask sellers where a machine came from.

The main key to successfully recovering equipment is keeping good records of your equipment’s serial or product identification number. Shepherd says that the National Crime Information Center is only set up to take a 17-digit number, so there can be issues reporting a theft if there is a truncated number on the bill of sale.

“Make sure that the paperwork you have matches up with the machine that you’re operating or purchasing, not in the sense of the numbers are completely different, but does your paperwork show less than a 17-character number?” Shepherd says.

Shepherd says if you don’t take the proper precautions and avoid this pitfall, you’ve reduced the chances of recovering your equipment.

Russell says logging their equipment’s make, models and serial numbers helps them know what they own and get the relevant information to law enforcement.

“We are able to find the missing equipment and get the information to law enforcement in a timely manner so that we have a better chance of recovering it,” Russell says. “In one of our recent theft incidents, our employee was able to do an audit on the asset tracking software, Asset Panda, and found the stolen equipment in under two minutes.”

He says typically, the equipment they do recover are items that they have logged and are tracking.

“Mostly, the police recover them from their investigation, most times at an individual’s home,” Russell says. “The officer gets notified if the equipment is being sold at a pawn shop. That’s why it is important to get the information to the police as quickly as possible.”

This article was published in the January/February issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.