Builders Step Up Response to Job Site Thefts
Home building associations are responding to the growing problem of construction thefts with a number of programs, including seminars, newsletter stories and guest speakers from the local police force to offer tips to keep the job site secure.
Other HBAs are trying new tacks. Last year, the North Carolina Home Builders Association was instrumental in pushing through new legislation making construction thieves pay more for their crimes, said Paul Wilms, the association’s director of government affairs. What started out as a minor item on the builders’ legislative agenda soon became a top priority among the members and they were jubilant when it passed.
“We got standing ovations” when announcing the approved measures, which make theft in excess of $300 from a construction site a Class 1 felony, rather than a misdemeanor, Wilms said. “It’s that big a deal to our members.”
When $1,000 was the amount triggering a felony charge, “the thieves were very adept at estimating the cost of materials and they would steal the threshold — $900 worth of wall board or 2′ by 4′s. They knew that the likelihood of prosecution was just about zero,” Wilms said. And because each incident was treated separately, thieves could cruise from site to site and steal up to the misdemeanor ceiling at each one without fear of jail time. Now, possession is a felony, which gets around the separate site issue, he said.
In St. Louis, a construction theft crime-stoppers program that gives financial rewards to informants whose tips pan out has paid dividends for members of the Home Builders Association of St. Louis and Eastern Missouri, said Executive Officer Pat Sullivan.
“Over the years, we’ve given out more than $50,000 in rewards payments,” he said. “We’ve received a tremendous amount of publicity and get quite a few ‘grip and grin’ photos in various area newspapers when we hand out reward checks to informants,” who must agree to help with publicity efforts or their reward can be halved.
“Have several crimes been solved because of the program? Probably. But there is no way to know for sure. Our real hope and belief is that it has prevented a lot of crimes from ever occurring in the first place,” Sullivan said.
HBAs and their members are always looking for new ideas to thwart would-be construction thieves. With North Carolina’s new, harsher law in place, home builders are posting signs warning trespassers of the ominous consequences of pilfering materials.
Wilms noted that the tougher threshold also gives discretion to judges. “In the event that a group of high school kids on a lark decided it would be fun to steal some stuff, we didn’t want to mandate prison time,” he said. “But this isn't just a ubiquitous problem for our state. It’s a problem all over the country.”
A ‘Junkyard War’
One example: On July 12, Associated Press reported a “junkyard war” in Athens, Ala. involving two roommates who allegedly stole construction equipment and caused thousands of dollars in damages in a battle of forklifts, backhoes and bulldozers.
The two men were found in a track hoe after midnight by officers responding to noise complaints. “They were playing with the machines and trying to hit each other,” said Floyd Johnson, an Athens police lieutenant. “It was like some kind of junkyard war.”
For an article from the NAHB Business Management Department with tips on how to avoid heists from job sites, click here.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.