UK police focus on equipment theft

By Patrick Hill02 December 2008

Detective Constable Ian Elliott of the Metropolitan Police.

Detective Constable Ian Elliott of the Metropolitan Police.

The Metropolitan Police formed the Plant & Agricultural Intelligence Unit in October to combat equipment theft in the UK. Its head, Detective Constable (DC) Ian Elliott, said it recovered £500000 of equipment in its first week and made three arrests in its first month of operation.

Speaking to IRN at the Civils 2008 exhibition in London in November, DC Elliott said, "Equipment theft today is like car theft was in the 70s."

One issue, according to the head of the new specialist unit, is that there is no information system for construction equipment equivalent to that for automobiles. The reporting of a car theft today generates almost instantly a country-wide dissemination of comprehensive, accurate identification data from integrated vehicle registration and identification databases.

In contrast, IRN saw a copy of a construction equipment theft report that identified the type and model of a stolen item as "digger" and "digger". UK police must manually enter into reporting systems description and incident information.

Also, many involved in enforcement are not familiar with manufacturers' names and cannot easily match theft reports with street observations. An example cited by DC Elliott: Kubota may be spelled "Kabota" - increasing the difficulty of police who are familiar with construction equipment.

Another impediment has been enforcement authorities' visibility of equipment theft. Despite an estimated equipment theft economic consequence of £1 billion (€1.2 billion) per year in losses, construction equipment theft goes into the category of "vehicle". The theft of a bicycle has the same statistical significance as the theft of a £30000 excavator.

DC Elliott is planning three conferences at Scotland Yard, one each for equipment manufacturers, the insurance industry, and equipment renters. His goal is to form industry groups and partnerships committed to changing the factors that seem to mitigate the economic effects of theft. He wants measures "...that will force hire companies to change their attitudes."

One of these is a star rating system, similar to the New Car Security Rating introduced by UK automobile insurers, for equipment theft deterrence. "UK companies shouldn't buy equipment without a star rating," said DC Elliott. "Publicly-funded projects should not allow easily-stolen equipment on site."

The Plant and Agricultural Intelligence Units comprises two detectives and a civilian analyst. Its £180000 budget is funded through the UK's CESAR (Construction Equipment Security and Registration programme.

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