Lots of construction, little machinery theft at TCU

Construction sites can be hot spots for thieves but not at TCU.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Texas was ranked number one in 2010 as the state with the highest number of heavy equipment thefts.

Large farm and construction equipment were some of the objects classified as heavy equipment in the NICB yearly report.

TCU Police Sgt.Kelly Ham said even with major construction on campus there have been no problems.

Construction on the campus is ongoing, Ham said. In the 26 years he has been with the university police department, there has been only one equipment theft.

A large generator was stolen from a contractor who worked on a construction project at TCU, Ham said.

Heavy equipment contain vehicle identification numbers which can be used to identify a stolen piece of equipment, Ham said. However, the generator was never recovered.

Johnny Nhan, assistant professor of criminal justice, said the opportunity to take something big from campus is rarer than at other construction sites. The university has good security and surveillance, and people are always around.

Two police officers patrol the construction sites on campus around the clock, Ham said. The patrols prevent any equipment from being stolen and any people from getting hurt.

“We have had a lot of people climb the fence to do nothing more than wanting to see the stadium up close,” Ham said.

People who steal heavy equipment are out to make money, Nhan said. Targets need to be easy, and a market has to exist to sell the equipment quickly.

“It is like an investment of your time; the more time you spend on a theft like that, the more your reward is,” Ham said.

The reason people commit heavy equipment theft is because the chance of being caught is slim, Nhan said. It is not for the thrill of the crime, and the problem will not be fixed by punishment.

“It doesn’t matter if you are increasing the penalty of jail from one year to two years,” Nhan said. “They are not thinking about that,”

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a 43-year-old Fort Worth man stole a forklift from a construction site in August.

The man led police on a slow-speed chase north on University Drive and onto Interstate 30. The chase never exceeded 16 mph.

The Star-Telegram reported the man was arrested on at least five criminal charges, including theft. He was taken to a Mansfield jail with a bail set at $100,245.

“These people steal because of the opportunity, so if you make the opportunity a little bit harder, that is all it takes,” Nhan said.

The economy in Texas is a little better than other states, which allows for more construction projects, Nhan said.

The NICB reported Texas had 1,894 heavy equipment thefts in 2010. Nhan said that equipment thieves often have knowledge or experience with heavy machinery.

“It is not a very complicated crime, but it is not something that anybody could just do,” Nhan said.