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MO Builder Tracks Stolen Equipment

Monday, October 16, 2017

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A home builder in Springfield, Missouri, decided to take catching construction equipment thieves into his own hands recently, investing in GPS tracking devices for all of his equipment and, eventually, helping the police.

Local news station KY3, an ABC affiliate, reported on the idea last week, noting that police in Springfield dealt with 20,000 property crime cases last year. The report added that construction equipment can be particularly hard to track down.

Six months ago, builder Jake Crutcher of Crutcher Custom Homes, decided to spend hundreds of dollars in order to tag each piece of his equipment with a small GPS device. Every piece that has been stolen since, has been found and returned.

"Three of those people have now been caught red-handed, so whenever they steal something, an alert goes off on my smartphone,” Crutcher said, “and it says ‘hey, the device is in movement,’ and so it tracks it just like it would in Google maps, and so just like when you pull up the destination on Google maps, and it shows you where you are in your car—it's the same thing with the tracking device and so we're able to go right to the equipment or trailer and get it back.”

Local police told the station that while it would be ideal if everyone invested in such tracking systems, the least industry workers can do, they said, is remember to keep records of equipment serial numbers.


Tagged categories: Good Technical Practice; Laws and litigation; North America; Safety

Comment from Jesse Melton, (10/16/2017, 7:39 AM)

Mylar is the proven solution. Thieves have been using it for a number of years to cloak (Ha!) GPS enabled tracking devices. Techtronic, the Chinese company that owns most of the brands of electronic and electromechanical tools in US stores, licensed a bunch of GPS technologies about a year ago. Expect GPS tracking in most tools for the Christmas shopping season. This is almost like a marketing exercise.

I wonder how police departments will deal with this. They can't enter a property because the app on your phone says your stuff is inside. The tracking ability doesn't prove anything either, just that you have access to an account with a signal tracking provider. You've still got to prove the belongs to you and if you can do that why not just report it stolen and get a brand new one from the insurance company?

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (10/16/2017, 11:01 AM)

A couple comments,, Mylar only works while the object is "cloaked"...hard to sell or use stolen gear if you can't take it out of the bag. Second, Most companies deploying such devices will have a record of the equipment (purchase details) and tracking device installation. Put those records plus the tracking info in front of a judge and I'm sure you can get a search warrant in short order (probable cause). Lastly, with insurance...why would you make a claim (and another, and another) and raise your premiums (and everyone else's) while allowing the "bad guys" to keep coming back for your replacement stuff? I'd say it's better to deal with the root cause of theft (i.e. getting rid of the thieves if the courts were to actually deal with them....whole different rant there) than just keep making claims and replacing the stuff getting stolen.

Comment from Jesse Melton, (10/17/2017, 8:46 AM)

You wait until you get home and take it out of the bag in your basement. Or even a parking garage. That's how those people in London were stealing the drones that were being tested as rooftop couriers. Standalone GPS devices don't perform anything like a mobile phone which can have as many as four different signals to enhance the accuracy of location data. You may have noticed that mobile devices have migrated away from the term GPS and now favor "Location Services". That's because most of the location data is acquired via terrestrial radio, not GPS.

That's pretty crucial. If the GPS device is indoors it's not using GPS for location data. It's using the intranetwork cellular messaging service that carries text messages. You're going to get 30' location guesstimates, at best. Getting a uniformed officer to escalate the case to a detective and someone from the DA's office and go before a judge and get a warrant for any of the 12 possible apartments, or 3-6 possible detached homes, in that range is really unlikely. They can't be wrong. That would have them involved in a huge lawsuit over a tool worth a couple thousand dollars.

As for insurance premiums, how much money are you going to lose without your tool(s)? You don't get the stolen property back until the case has been tried. If it's expensive enough to justify search warrants it's going to be a felony trial after the arraignment and grand jury trials. You're talking months. When I was a kid my father's store was broken into and the cash register was taken. It took over a year before it was returned. It's a lot cheaper to go through the insurance company than the legal system.

Historically we've tried cutting off the hand of thieves and after that didn't work we cut off their heads. The next step was transportation to Australia and when that didn't work the thieving Australians were sent to Chile. If that didn't work I don't know why a jail sentence would.

Comment from HF Staples, (10/17/2017, 11:14 AM)

File the claim and let the insurer chase the crooks. Once the claim is paid the ownership rights transfer to the insurance company, which has in-house loss prevention staff. Win-win-win: the contractor gets replacement equipment; the insurer recovers property value; the crook gets caught.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/18/2017, 8:14 AM)

Hard to hide a Sullair 375 in an upstairs apartment. Jesse - I think you're unduly pessimistic. In the article, the owner was able to retrieve all the stolen property - so it apparently works at least some of the time.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (10/18/2017, 11:15 AM)

Problem is, unless we're talking big losses (six figures plus), it's not worth the insurance company's loss prevention staff's won't even make it to their desk, little on getting to the point of an investigation. So, sure, the construction company files a claim, gets replacement stuff within 3-4 weeks with some loss to cover depreciation, insurance premiums go up and the crooks (or their friends) know who has new stuff thanks to the insurance company. It's really a no-win for anyone except the thief...the construction company still has to wait for the settlement from insurance and then invest the employee hours to get the replacement gear; the insurance company has a claim so the area gets another hit and premiums start to creep for the entire area; and even if they are caught a dozen times, most courts barely give chronic offenders more than a slap on the wrist. I like the locator idea....they are a simple transmitter that gets picked up and relayed. Not the same as the GPS tracking units for vehicles or heavy equipment, more like what's out there for finding stolen bikes. I personally think it would greatly reduce theft if more companies made use of the technology.

Comment from Patrick Leewens, (10/18/2017, 1:04 PM)

Can Jake Crutcher tell us what tracking system he used?

Comment from Jesse Melton, (10/18/2017, 1:54 PM)

I'm not being pessimistic, simply pragmatic. Thieves targeting big equipment are either idiots or have a system in place to disable tracking devices. Look at LoJack and OnStar. In less than 90 days from public rollout sophisticated thieves had discovered ways to disable them. Remember the US drone that decided to land in Iran and was captured? The US couldn't execute the built in self destruction system because a secure communications tent was erected over the drone before satellites even made their next pass. A secure communications tent is a silicon-nylon tent with a Mylar later on the inside. The Metropolitan Police in London believe the people who stole their drone used the same methods.

Small equipment, as I said previously, is easily hidden technologically and legally. Once things like the "Tick" GPS asset tracking device from Milwaukee Electric Tools is ubiquitous police are not going to get involved. The guy in this story is simply fortunate in getting being a little more technologically advanced than your average contractor. Once police are getting constant calls about stolen tools, each of which is a lawsuit risk they'll file a report that the insurance company can access for processing your claim. They're not going to go chasing tools, just like they don't go chasing phones, tablets and computers.

And why should they? They don't want to get shot while trying to find some ragged out air compressor that's insured. They'll tell you what they tell everyone else. Secure your stuff better. The best way to prevent theft is to prevent theft. Once something has been stolen the rules are changed and it's a recovery operation. A dangerous recovery operation. It's simply not worth it.

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