To Catch A Thief

Features - Operations

Contractors share how high-tech tools enable them to curb costly incidents of theft and vandalism to snow and ice equipment.

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September 3, 2019

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Like many business owners, snow contractors have concerns about loss issues, whether due to theft or vandalism. Technology has given them tools to combat these issues and Charles Glossop the CEO of Hantho Outdoor Services in Rockford, Minn, near Minneapolis. says those tools are needed.

“(Loss) is a big issue,” he says. “I know a couple years ago in the Minneapolis marketplace there were somewhere in the region of 85-90 skidloaders stolen in the winter.

“What happens today is the thieves will come in and they will remove a piece of equipment. They’ll load it into the back of an enclosed semi-trailer and they’ll have that piece of equipment stripped down before it reaches the state line.”

Glossop, an industry veteran with four decades of experience under his belt, says GPS technology has made things more difficult for potential thieves. “Most of our equipment has GPS on it,” he says. “We rent a lot of equipment in the winter (from Ziegler CAT); all that equipment is GPS.”

Glossop points out that a GPS unit can monitor a piece of equipment’s hours of operation, oil usage, and other functions. But, in today’s world, the technology is an important weapon against theft.

“That’s making it rougher on the crooks,” he says.

Rick Bell is the general manger at Arctic Snow and Ice Control in Frankfort, Ill., in suburban Chicago.

Arctic has endured some $100,000 in losses over the past two seasons because of theft and vandalized equipment, Bell says. The company’s professional footprint extends for some 350 miles and spans portions of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Bell has now begun utilizing GPS technology and assumed the expense that comes with it.

“You’re going to add another expense to your operating budget that you didn’t want to,” Bell says, but I don’t want to have to turn in a 60,000 (insurance) claim every year. You’ve got to GPS everything. You’ve got to become creative. We have GPS on most of our equipment. Some of the equipment does not, but because of the last two years, everything we put in the field is going to have GPS on it.”

Bell believes that much of the theft that occurs in the industry is the result of established service providers being victimized by those trying to get into the business through unscrupulous means.

“The biggest issue we have is the people who are stealing this equipment are in the same industry we’re in,” he says. “Who would steal a plow, what would you need it for? You would only need it because you’re plowing or you know someone to sell it to. It’s the same people in this industry that are hurting other people in the industry, because they know where the equipment is, the know what the equipment does they know it’s for and they know how to get a hold of it.”

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Companies are particularly susceptible to theft of large equipment during lulls between snow events, Bell says..

“(Thieves) know when to go look,” he says. “They know when we have two weeks of no weather events that probably nobody’s really keeping an eye on (equipment). So, there’s that opportunity to strike. We’ve seen it happen.”

Over the past two years, Glossop’s company has put protocols in place to guard against the theft of smaller equipment, such as tools. “We padlock everything even in the back of an open truck,” he says. “It’s padlocked with a chain or a cable so it can’t be stolen.”

Hantho Outdoor Services also utilizes surveillance cameras at its facilities. “We put up something like a wildlife camera that we hide somewhere,” Glossop says, “and that ties into our cell phones. When the camera is activated, we get an update on our phones.”

Glossop says the company maintains contact with local law enforcement and will advise them where their big pieces of equipment like box plows are located. They’ll ask to have officers keep an eye out when they’re on patrol in case something is amiss.

“On a couple occasions, we’ve had a piece of equipment that has been left running and the police will jump in that piece of equipment, take the key out, and give us a call. So, it’s about building relationships. And it’s about training the staff about what to look for.”

Glossop says his company also strives to reduce or eliminate internal loss, a problem he believes is “Bigger that what we know it is. I think it’s too easy for owners or managers to just write out a check and get another hammer or drill, or whatever.”

To combat the problem, team leaders and foremen are issued a tool kit at the start of the season, that includes everything they might need on the job, including iPads “We started that about two years ago,” Glossop say. “At the end of the season, what’s missing, they pay for.”

Rick Woelfel is a Philadelphia-based writer and frequent Snow Magazine contributor.