As home sales soar, so does vigilance against construction site thieves

By Don Coble don@opcfla.com
Posted 7/14/21

CLAY COUNTY – Construction companies in the county are having a difficult time keeping pace with the demand for new homes – and keeping their materials and tools from disappearing in the …

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As home sales soar, so does vigilance against construction site thieves

Posted

CLAY COUNTY – Construction companies in the county are having a difficult time keeping pace with the demand for new homes – and keeping their materials and tools from disappearing in the night.

New neighborhoods sometimes are easy targets for thieves who want to cut costs on their own projects or make money on the black market. And with national losses estimated at more than $400 million, builders and law enforcement are ramping up their efforts to keep every sheet of plywood and every bucket of paint where it belongs.

Added with supply shortages created by the COVID-19 pandemic and summer weather, construction sites have never been a bigger target.

“With the pandemic restrictions lifting and everybody getting out and about now, I would not be surprised now if crime started ticking back up, just because people are out and about and moving,” Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook said. “That’s something we’re going to keep an eye on.

“We’re also going to be keeping a close eye on construction theft. We have over 600 homes currently under construction here in Clay County. That for us is something we’re going to be watching closely. We look forward to working with the builders in the area to prevent construction theft crimes.”

While some communities under construction may appear to be remote, there’s a good chance somebody is watching – either in person or by video surveillance.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, the most common items stolen from construction sites are lumber and other building supplies, tools, appliances and large construction equipment. Larger equipment generally is the work of organized thieves, while the others are considered crimes of opportunity made easier by the lack of doors and windows.

Another prime target is copper. The Department of Energy estimates the amount of copper stolen each year is more than $1 billion, and a lot of that comes from spools of electrical wiring, piping and plumbing supplies early in the construction process.

The cost of copper has risen from about $3 a pound to $4.50 since 2019, and it’s easy to sell to a recycling center.

Other common items include:

• Lumber. Not only is it easy to load and transport, it’s in high demand, especially since the cost of lumber has risen by more than 170% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

• Construction materials. Things like insulation, nails, windows and doors are in demand – and hard to detect – for builders looking to cut financial corners.

• Small tools. Items like hammers, tape measures, extension cords and saws are easy to take – and easy to resell.

• Power tools are very popular among thieves because they’re easy to pawn for quick cash.

• Large appliances. New stoves, refrigerators and dishwashers are a little more difficult to steal, but the rewards from the black market can offset the risks.

• Heavy equipment. While taking a bulldozer or tractor doesn’t happen very often, thieves can target batteries and engine parts.

Construction crime is so prevalent, the Northeast Florida Builder’s Association has established a construction crime prevention committee. NEFBA also created a partnership with Crime Stoppers, which works will law enforcement agencies in the five-county area, including Clay.

Security officials said there’s a direct correlation between installing appliances during the construction process and after the home is completed. As a result, many builders won’t install air conditioners or kitchen appliances until the house is on the market.

There is a variety of ways to prevent other construction thefts, including:

• Lock or take equipment away from the site at the end of the day.

• Keep detailed records, particularly serial numbers, of equipment. It’s a good way to recover stolen items from a pawn shop or keep scrupulous co-workers from taking them.

• Hire a security guard.

• Install a security system and lights. Burglars don’t like it when they know they’re on candid camera.

• Turn off circuit breakers. Don’t make it easy for criminals to rummage through an empty house.

• Cut fuel supplies by installing fuel pump kill switches. If it can’t run, it can’t be moved.

• Perform background checks on all employees.

• Put up a fence around the site. While it won’t detour all criminals, it will keep thieves out who are looking for a quick, easy score.

• Lock all cars and trucks. At least make it more difficult – and noisier – for a criminal.

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