Organized Theft Strikes Southern California Construction Sites

Southern California's home-building boom has spawned a new type of criminal: well-organized theft rings that target small construction sites

"Construction equipment is everywhere in our communities. Where are they not building something?"

The Sheriff's Department in San Bernardino County has begun installing tracking devices on heavier equipment such as cranes and Bobcats that are being stolen from one construction site and sold at another, building industry officials said.

Stealing from homes under construction is nothing new, said Neil Devroy, spokesman for Centex Homes.

"Since home-builders have been building homes, there have been individuals who have targeted home-building sites to get an extreme discount on everything from lumbers to faucets," cracked Devroy. "But, primarily what we've experienced has been random, ad hoc-type situations and we're not aware of any organized pattern."

But thefts are a growing concern for builders, who see rising material costs and skyrocketing insurance rates.

The Building Industry Association of Southern California is in the process of creating a construction site crime prevention program to help builders secure construction locations, said Frank Williams, chief executive officer of the group's Baldy View Chapter, which covers San Bernardino and parts of Los Angeles County.

"In the past, builders were reluctant to report thefts to insurance carriers because of high insurance rates," Williams said. "In today's times, materials are so expensive and the losses are getting larger."

The association is advising its members -- which account for about 85 percent of all single-family construction in Southern California -- to take precautions in protecting their areas, including being aware of who's coming in and out of a job site, putting in guards, fencing, lighting and cameras.

Williams said some of the measures might be too costly for smaller projects such as people simply remodeling their homes. In those cases, an alarm system, lighting and fencing is recommended.

If you have any information on the Glendale suspects or if you believe you've been a victim of a crime, call (818) 548-2097, authorities say.

A 24-hour hotline has been set up, (800) 432-7257, Ext. 823, for people to report thefts or suspicious activity. Officials offer up to a $1,000 reward for anyone with information leading to the recovery of the property.