During the last fortnight, there has been a marked increase in plant and tool theft from both vehicles and site compounds. The sharp spike in thefts is largely due to construction firms and contractors temporarily scaling down work and shutting jobsites due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The CEA (Construction Equipment Association), owners of the CESAR scheme (the plant marking and registration initiative), reports on the latest crime spree and talks to industry specialists, who were able to offer sound advice to construction firms on measures they can take to help prevent plant and tool theft, and how companies can assist police with the recovery and identification of stolen kit.

David Smith, chairman CITS (Combined Industries Theft Solutions) commented on the current situation, "As a result of the Coronavirus situation, some construction sites have been forced to close, and personnel, including on-site security, have left. Under these circumstances, organised criminal gangs may try to exploit the situation."

Where construction plant and equipment has been left on site, it is hoped that the police will be as vigilant as ever. Any unusual activity, on or near construction sites which have closed, needs to be investigated. This also applies to any unusual transport movements for construction plant, for example, during an unusual time, or if the vehicle is moving numerous items of plant belonging to different companies."

For owners of construction plant, it may be useful, for example, to ensure that tracking companies are alerted to the plants' location."

Mr Smith concluded, "With all sectors working together, we will have a better chance of preventing crime during this time."

"The Coronavirus ‘lockdown' has meant that it's currently ‘open season' for criminal gangs who target construction plant" commented Nick Mayell, Datatag's CESAR Police training and liaison officer and security expert. "The abrupt abandonment of work-sites has left machinery unsecured and vulnerable.  Whereas a company would normally ‘wind-down' for seasonal closures by ‘off-hiring' kit and moving their own machines – sites have closed overnight – in the blink of an eye – and the thieves are having a field day."

Mr Mayell added, "The shifting of kit has also become much easier as trucks and vans are moving freely during the lockdown where car travel is restricted to ‘essential'."

Ian Elliott, group head of security, Clancy Docwra and CITS (Combined Industries Theft Solutions) vice chairman advised, "Firms should be aiming at removing the majority of tools and plant away from site compounds."

Mr Elliott added, "Where traditionally companies would perhaps have used plant containers – during these challenging times – companies are advised to leave these almost empty and remove plant and tools to a head-office, where possible, or placing the tools and small kit, within brick or concrete buildings well out of sight of the criminals. For sites where a company can't physically remove kit – then the machinery should be placed within containers and for the containers to be blocked in by placing large concrete blocks or vehicles in front of the containers - blocking the doors. Keys for the vehicles must not be left on site!"

DC Chris Piggott, Rural Vehicle Crime intelligence officer, NAVCIS (National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service), offered his advice, "Many construction and agricultural vehicles now have so-called smart keys containing electronic information needed to start the machine, so it's vital that keys are removed from machines and stored securely in a remote location."

"Other measures include the CESAR marking and registration system, immobilizers and tracking devices which are effective in deterring thieves and aiding police recoveries."

DC Piggott added, "Using the CESAR marking, and registration system makes machinery less attractive to criminals. Also, know what you own - take pictures of your vehicles and record serial numbers."

Ian Elliot offered further advice for contractors with higher risk sites, he said, "Investing in active CCTV is advisable for sites considered as high-risk. Active CCTV uses analytic cameras that alert a monitoring centre if the cameras detect movement on the site out of hours – who will then view what set off the alert and call the police if appropriate."

Mr Elliott added, "It's pointless having CCTV unless it's the active type – as all this does is add insult to injury the following morning when you watch the footage of your equipment being loaded into someone else's van and stolen."

"Some companies are beginning to invest in thermal imaging cameras, which reduce the number of false alarm events relating to CCTV on sites these, rather than detecting movement, use body heat monitoring. The camera easily picks up the body heat of any human walking across a site."

Mr Elliott's final advice was that companies should also review their ‘hired in terms and conditions' in order to protect their business.  He said, "Only hire in equipment that has CESAR or micro CESAR fitted, and is installed with immobilisers and a tracking device as standard. If the hire company cannot prove the fitting or installation any of these mentioned security measures, and the equipment is subsequently stolen, then this would be at the hire companies own risk."

Datatag's, Nick Mayell, who has trained 1000's of police officers, from across the 43 UK Constabularies on CESAR identification, explains the CESAR marking scheme, which was first launched in 2007, in more detail, and why it acts as an effective deterrent to criminals;

"A seasoned plant thief can easily grind out the chassis number and remove a manufacturers serial number plate, and with the latest technology, these can be replaced with fake copies that are near on impossible to spot."

"A layered approach to security is always advised, which includes trackers and immobilisers, however, plant owners should be aware that not all security systems are infallible, and often criminals can bypass these systems with signal blockers."

Mr Mayell continued, "The CESAR scheme is a multi-layered system which includes tamper evident warning and registration plates, RFID transponders, a microdot identification system comprising of between 500-1000 micro dots which are scattered around the machine and forensic DNA. Once fitted these technologies are almost impossible to remove successfully, and when the machine is registered on Datatag's secure database, these unique details are accessible to the police 24/7enabling them to identify any machine at the roadside night or day very quickly. The CESAR website also has a "Hot Button" to instantly report stolen machinery."

"In addition, Datatag has a manned 24hour international call centre specifically for CESAR and the scheme is also part of Interpol's training programme - so its reach is worldwide. I have recovered kit from as far away as Australia."

Mr Mayell concluded, "I have recently been involved in a case where I have assisted in the recovery of 32 machines and not one of these machines were CESAR marked, which is testament to how much of a theft deterrent this scheme is, and criminals appear to be purposely targeting non CESAR registered machines."

"Where we have recovered machines that are CESAR registered and, it's reached the law courts, we have yet to lose a case, and many criminal gangs have been convicted and imprisoned."

The Covid-19 virus has not only impacted on the increase in Plant theft - but the situation is also partly responsible for the delay in launching the new Agricultural Construction Equipment national police unit.

The CEA is still progressing agreements with the police and key insurers to support a new Agricultural Construction Equipment (ACE) national police unit, which will be the successor for the original Plant & Agricultural National Intelligence Unit (PANIU). Whilst best intentions were to announce the launch of the new unit on 1st April 2020, this has now been postponed until 1st October 2020 due to unforeseen hurdles.

Rob Oliver, chief executive CEA stated, "The good thing is that, although the new national police unit is delayed, there is still active industry/police co-operation going on. This is made possible by the expertise of the CESAR Police Liaison Team, CITS and others stepping up their services to combat this crime wave. Police officers may have other urgent concerns at present, but the 24/7 CESAR call centre remains as a quick check resource for them when they need to identify suspicious plant. At the moment, it is all about working together to help protect our people and our businesses."

Regarding the Covid-19 lockdown the UK is not yet out of the woods and HMG is predicting restriction of movement for some weeks to come.  So, if you have a site or kit that needs securing, please follow the experts' advice and protect your kit...

Date Created: 08/04/2020

The Construction & Agricultural Equipment Security and Registration Scheme