Be Aware of Your Surroundings
An employee at McGuire & Hester, Alameda, California, had just arrived home to San Leandro in a company-owned white Ford F-550 one evening in the fall of 2023. Upon exiting the vehicle, several thieves who had apparently followed the employee home from the job site jumped the employee and made off with the company truck. Thankfully, the employee was not seriously injured.
It’s common to be told to remain aware of one’s surroundings at the morning toolbox talk, but this event is an important reminder that advice is just as relevant when the workday is over.
What Thieves Want
Wes T. Murer, safety director at McGuire & Hester, said equipment theft in general is nothing new to the company. What is unique about this case is that the truck was recovered in good shape, but stripped of all tools and supplies—and that the robbery was particularly brazen.
“This event happened in broad daylight in the employee’s own driveway,” Murer said. “Usually, theft occurs at night by stealing things off the job site, but thieves are becoming more brazen and more aggressive.” Murer himself was robbed of his laptop while pumping gas in the Oakland area quite recently.
The company has even seen equipment go missing in the short amount of time between when controls are removed from the paver and when they’re locked up in a truck. “We’ve had things stolen from the tailgate in a matter of seconds of being removed from the paver,” Murer said.
The top items of interest to thieves, Murer said, seem to be electronic controls for paving equipment. “Those controls, such as sonar, lasers, GPS, etc., are expensive and universal for use on other pieces of equipment and applications,” he said. “ A complete unit could go for upwards of $15,000—and thieves know exactly what they’re looking for.”
Murer said it’s rare to get any equipment back once it’s been stolen. The trucks from which the equipment is often stolen are usually recovered, but rarely in good condition. “The most expensive part of most theft is the damage done to the ignition, the steering column, or from thieves prying open the lockboxes. We’ve even had trucks recovered that had been completely burned out.”
In this event, the truck was recovered intact. “The thieves just pulled into a secluded area, used the keys they’d stolen to open the lock boxes and take the tools, then ditched the truck,” Murer said. The truck was recovered the morning after the robbery when a local business owner called McGuire & Hester to tell the company one of its trucks was parked near the business with its doors open.
Protect Your Equipment
McGuire & Hester has made several improvements to keep its equipment safer. This includes investing in technology to track company vehicles (so long as the thieves aren’t savvy enough to destroy or disable it) and locking equipment in locations inaccessible to the public such as company warehouses.
“Keeping equipment locked up under positive control makes it much harder for thieves to get to it,” Murer said. However, he recognizes that it’s impossible to store equipment under those conditions at all times since it must be transported to and from the job site. That’s why the company has also invested in additional security measures on its truck lock boxes, such as more secure locking systems with drop down bars that are quite challenging to cut without the correct tools. “Sometimes we recover vehicles with damage to those doors from thieves trying to pry them open, but they haven’t managed to get in because of those security bars.”
How to Handle a Robbery
Murer’s biggest takeaway from the fall 2023 robbery is to remain aware of one’s surroundings. “Work in pairs to keep an eye out together, check that you aren’t being followed home from the job site, and if you are ever confronted do not engage or escalate things,” he said. “People who have tried to engage with thieves have gotten assaulted or worse. We make it clear to employees that they should give the thieves what they want and we’ll report it to the police, because the thieves will do what it takes to get the tools they’re after. Our employees’ safety is paramount.”