ST. GEORGE — Hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment has recently been stolen from construction sites, a crime type that has seen a recent uptick, both in St. George and Washington City, where thieves can turn pricey equipment into quick cash.
Washington City Police Lt. Kory Klotz told St. George News the most recent string of burglaries took place Monday night and continued into the early morning hours of Tuesday.
A total of six construction sites were hit across Washington City on that night alone, he said, adding the thefts were reported from sights near Maverick on Hoodoo Way just east of Interstate 15, all the way to construction sites located in the Warner Valley area near the Southern Parkway exchange.
“They made the rounds and hit all over Washington City,” he said.
Klotz said the thefts were not confined to specific equipment either. In fact, he said, the reports included all types of construction tools and even larger equipment. Moreover, he said, the suspects nearly emptied more than one of the trailers and even removed a large compactor that was secured to a flatbed trailer after removing the chain that was securing the equipment.
“You name it, they took it – all of it,” he said.
In all, he said that more than $100,000 in equipment and tools were stolen during Monday’s crime spree. He said they suspect it is the same group of suspects hitting the sites and have been able to amass a large quantity of stolen equipment in a short period of time.
In St. George, authorities are seeing a similar spike in thefts involving construction sites, St. George Police Officer Tiffany Mitchell said, adding that the increase has taken place over the last several months and involves at least 20 separate reports. Similar to Washington City, she added, at least $100,000 in equipment has been taken from the various sites in total.
But those numbers are not included in a recent burglary reported at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint Red Cliffs Temple worksite located on the corner of 3000 East and 1580 South in the Washington Fields area of St. George, (see editor’s note), where nearly $200,000 in construction equipment was taken during the early morning hours on Tuesday, Mitchell said.
The incidents between both agencies are still under investigation.
Asset protection to stop the rising costs of construction site thefts
To address the spike in criminal activity, the police department has increased patrols in some of the hardest-hit areas, Klotz said, but even the enhanced police presence can only do so much to deter the activity since the thefts are occurring over such a large area – from one end of the city to the other.
To that end, Klotz said that trailers left at construction sites are a prime target for thieves. To reduce this risk, he said trailers should be removed from the construction site at the end of the workday.
Statistics show that the most common cause of construction site theft is inadequate site security, which makes it easier for thieves to steal equipment, and every year an estimated $400 million in tools and equipment are stolen from construction sites in the U.S., according to Great American Insurance.
As such, maintaining some form of surveillance of a site will help reduce the risk of theft, he said, which is crucial to avoid the hefty costs to replace equipment, even though the stolen equipment is sold quickly for pennies on the dollar.
Barring a live security guard, a well-placed security camera will not only discourage theft, but it will also provide information on the thieves if a theft does happen, Klotz added. Installing a quality video surveillance system is the next best thing when it comes to protecting an owner’s investment, considering the significant amount of money that is typically tied up in building materials and equipment needed in the construction industry.
Moreover, equipping the site with high-grade lighting can also protect the site and even deter criminals, he said, since thieves tend to prefer working under the cover of darkness where they can slip in and out without being seen, and if thieves have a reason to believe that they will get caught, they will move on to another easier target.
There are other security options available as well, including installing a GPS geofencing system, which sends a text the moment a piece of equipment moves off the job site.
Additionally, Klotz said keeping a record of each piece of equipment, as well as serial numbers, can help assist officers in identifying the items if they are stolen – information that was lacking in the theft reported this week. Keeping records is also important since pawnshops document the serial number of each item they take in, if available.
“Serial numbers are key in recovering stolen property,” Klotz said. “That way we can determine what has been stolen and who the rightful owner is.”
Construction sites are common targets for theft and vandalism, but taking steps to deter this type of activity not only reduces the losses suffered by each site owner, but it also makes the area less attractive to criminal rings that target areas that are vulnerable.
Deterring this type of criminal activity has benefits that go beyond a particular crime spree or incident, he said, since it makes Southern Utah a less profitable area – which often deters criminal activity.
This report is based on statements from police, emergency personnel or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.
Editors note: The location of the burglary reported at the LDS Temple worksite was originally listed as the site on East 400 South, but on Friday, Mitchell told St. George News the theft took place at the construction site of the Red Cliffs Temple on 3000 East.
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