A spate of roofing shingle thefts in Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma suggest that thieves are once again targeting LBM dealers just as they did in 2009 and 2010, when more than $50 million in shingles, trucks, and equipment was stolen. This time, criminals may be targeting smaller towns with easy access to freeways—and it seems all roads lead to Texas.
In Arkadelphia, Ark., thieves made off with $400,000 from the Hardman Lumber, including an 18-wheeler, two flatbed trucks loaded with shingles, and an attached forklift, according to Lt. Jason Jackson of the Arkadelphia Police Department. Jackson says that the thieves walked around a fence and used the company’s own forklift to load up the shingles. The same forklift was then used to remove a section of fence, which allowed the criminals to drive off the lot. “It wasn’t much of a break-in,” Jackson says, “more of a break-out.” The trucks and trailers were later discovered abandoned in Grand Prairie, Texas.
At Parker Lumber, in Clifton, Texas, robbers cut a hole in a fence and used the company’s forklift to load two flatbeds of shingles. They took the hinges off the yard’s gate to escape, and then propped it back up to avoid notice. The total value of the stolen property was about $40,000. The trucks were later recovered in Grand Prairie, Texas, according to Sgt. Darrin Glenn of the Clifton Police Department.
In Altus, Okla., criminals hit the American Home Center. They first cut the padlock on the gate, then pushed the company’s security cameras skyward so it would be unable to capture the crime. The thieves proceeded to use the yard’s forklift to load up a pair of flatbed trucks with shingles for a combined value of $100,000, according to a KSWO news report. One truck crashed before reaching its destination. The other was found abandoned and emptied in Grand Prairie, Texas.
At press time, no arrests had been made in any of these crimes, which occurred between May and August.
All three of the targeted towns have a population of less than 20,000, with Clifton’s population being just over 3,000, which suggests that criminals are targeting smaller towns and mom-and-pop shops, says David Paul Strom, director of loss prevention, security, and risk management for McCoy’s Building Supply.
Strom says that he’s starting to see an increase in shingle theft in the Texas area, making him worry that thieves are just getting started. “If this comes back again like it did three years ago, it’s going to be unbelievable,” he says.
Strom figures that larger companies such as McCoy’s, which learned its lesson in 2009–2010, are now harder to hit. As a result, thieves are targeting easier prey in small towns where security is minimal. “The smaller towns that are close to a major artery, going to a major city—that’s where they’re going to go,” he says.
Just like three years ago, when more than 100 LBM dealers were hit before the robberies tailed off, simple supply and demand is likely fueling the crimes. Strom says that the booming Texas economy is a hot market for stolen shingles. That explains why trucks are being abandoned in Grand Prairie, a heavily industrial area that’s close to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
And shingles themselves, a petroleum-based product, have become pricey—more than tripling in cost from about $30 a square to $100 a square since oil prices skyrocketed.
Jeff Willis, senior vice president for the Roofing Supply Group’s Rocky Mountain and Midwest Region, says that shingles have become so enticing to thieves that they’re stealing loads directly from construction sites. To combat the loss, his company has started photographing every load of shingles delivered as proof of receipt.
Part of the problem is that shingles are a commodity product, meaning that they have no individual identifiers. Once they’ve been stolen, it’s difficult to prove that they are stolen materials, and it’s even more difficult to prove who owns them. Some LBM dealers have taken the extraordinary step of inserting radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on loads of shingles in an attempt to track them. But at about $1,500 per tag, most can’t afford it, Strom says.
The very things that make shingles attractive to criminals—difficult to track, easy to offload—make it hard for police to catch the perpetrators, says Craig Lukshin, finance and services manager at Lumbermen’s Association of Texas & Louisiana. Since 2010, Lukshin says, the association has been working with law enforcement officials to raise awareness and create better communication channels between agencies.
But he also says that the biggest problem is LBM dealers themselves who, after getting hit, don’t fill out the forms that help police do their jobs. “People don’t want to get the word out that they’ve been robbed because it can be seen as embarrassing,” Lukshin says.
Strom agrees. He also urges all LBM dealers to invest in security such as motion-sensing cameras. He estimates that it would cost about $3,000 to fully protect a store with such cameras, plus $100 to $300 a month for monitoring. “When there’s nothing but a chain-link fence standing between thieves and $10,000, you’re asking for trouble,” Strom says.
Although security investments can be expensive, the alternative may carry a heavier price. “Three years ago, a lot of these mom and pops, they just assumed they weren’t going to get hit again. And then they got hit two or three times again,” Strom warns. “Some of these smaller places, they can’t absorb these kinds of losses and stay in business.”