Thieves raid construction sites
SUMMIT COUNTY – Police chiefs and the sheriff are scheduled to meet with area contractors today to address recent construction site thefts that have cost builders tens of thousands of dollars in tools.In an apparently organized and informed attack, thieves have hit contractors’ tool caches at work sites in Breckenridge, Silverthorne and unincorporated areas of Summit County. In one burglary two weeks ago in the Highlands, the thieves made off with an estimated $40,000 in tools and equipment. The burglars hauled off equipment such as compressors that require at least two people to move and a large vehicle to haul away.Construction theft has been a problem since growth began in Summit County, but the recent rampant crime spree has precipitated the meeting between law enforcement and the Summit County Builders Association. Discussion at the meeting is expected to focus on prevention measures and questions about what police can do to help. Interviews with officials on both sides, however, reveal that each is looking for the other to do more. Police want contractors to take more precautions on their end, while builders are looking for more effort from the law.
“Our hope is to reach out to these groups and work together in a partnership to prevent some of it,” said Summit County Sheriff John Minor, whose deputies filed a report on a $5,000 tool theft over the holiday weekend. “We’re hoping to see what the builders have to say.”But builders such as Brian Platte of Apex Mountain Homes, which has suffered thefts of more than $40,000 in the past 18 months, say they are being pushed to extremes to try to prevent theft while business falters.Platte said Wednesday he was in the midst of ordering two heavy-duty security trailers like those used for transporting sensitive cargo. His company has tried using motion-sensitive lighting on job sites, locked trailers, industrial lock boxes and other means to prevent theft – to no avail. Platte said he also engraves serial numbers into all the company’s equipment and paints tools bright pink so they’re easily identified.”These guys are professionals,” Platte said, sizing up the criminal operation. “I’m sure they’ve got lookouts down the road. They’re using walkie-talkies. They’re dropping a guy off; he collects all the tools and piles them up in front of the door and waits for somebody to come pick him up. They’re hitting three or four sites in a night, and loading everything into box vans or large trailers in the parking lot of one of these motels around here. That’s what the cops need to be looking for.”In a bit of irony, the thieves are using heavy tools to steal more tools. Platte said the security storage units used by builders are pried open with crowbars, locks are cut with bolt cutters or saws and any security devices are disabled by shutting off the power at the site.
“In one of our thefts, they even used a drill to drill out the rivets on a door – and then they cleaned out the trailer,” Platte said.Platte said that, if police investigated, they’d find the same modus operandi in crimes in Telluride, Aspen and Montrose, where he has had contact with other contractors. “But they don’t have the time or the energy,” he said.Summit County Crime Stoppers president Steve Layne said a news story on the tool theft two weeks ago yielded one tip, but the group is hoping for more. Layne said it appears the thieves know what they’re after and where to find it, indicating some previous knowledge of the companies and the job sites.Layne said builders might have to consider a cooperative effort at increased security. Layne, who was a Summit County sheriff’s deputy 20 years ago, saw the same problem when construction first took off in the area. Back then, he said, the contractors banded together to buy fencing for job sites and hired guards.”They really need to think about prevention,” he said Tuesday, while meeting with Silverthorne’s new police chief. Silverthorne police reported at least three tool thefts over the holiday weekend.
Another problem with tool theft is that there is no statewide system to track stolen goods, and odds are the stolen tools are leaving the county – possibly even the state. When pawn shops or other secondhand goods dealers receive merchandise, they can cross-reference those items against reports of stolen property, but only within that jurisdiction. For example, a pawn shop in Denver has no way of knowing that a cordless drill was stolen from Summit County. And, with contractor work and top-dollar jobs from insurance companies going out to bid in Florida following two hurricanes, there is some speculation among law enforcement that the tools are headed to the southeast.”You wonder why someone would rob a 7-Eleven when there’s security cameras and lights all over the place when they could just do this,” Platte said. “The sad thing is, if it was a bank getting robbed this way, the FBI would be all over this.”Reid Williams can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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