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THEFTS ARE BUILDING AT CONSTRUCTION SITES

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Crowded retail stores are popular shoplifting targets during the holiday season, but another booming Utah Valley business unexpectedly has theft problems, too.

Power tools, building materials and other equipment used in the construction trade are hot items this winter in Provo and Orem. Police in both cities are finding an outbreak of burglaries at building sites."This time of year construction sites get hit a lot," said Provo police detective Sgt. Stan Eggen.

Burglars stole tools worth $4,800 from two locations in Provo this week.

Finish carpentry tools valued at about $8,000 were among equipment taken from nine construction sites in Orem during the past six weeks. The total value of items taken in each of the burglaries ranged from about $1,000 to $8,000, said Orem Police spokesman Sgt. Gerald Nielsen.

Winter weather that mucks up job sites might account for the upswing in thefts. Eggen, a part-time brick mason, said it's difficult for construction workers to get in and out of the houses or buildings where they are working. Rather than haul the tools out every night, they sometimes leave them inside.

"It doesn't take very long for the creeps to find out," Eggen said.

Springville-based contractor Dennis Gore agrees that weather conditions might be a factor in the thefts. "There probably is more risk in the winter," he said.

Some laborers use metal lock boxes to store tools overnight, but even those aren't safe anymore. A thief tooling around in a forklift, or more likely a group of thieves, lifted a several-hundred-pound, 30-by-30-by-40-inch lock box from a construction site in the River-bot-toms.

Police don't know whether to attribute the rash of burglaries to a couple of burglars working on their own or a theft ring. But some evidence points to planned crime.

"It's a little more organized than stealing a tool box out of the back of some guy's truck," said Provo Police Capt. George Pierpont.

Police also aren't sure whether the stolen goods are being resold locally or placed in storage. Eggen will make the rounds at pawn shops to check for tools he thinks thieves might have fenced for Christmas money.

Eggen said tool-theft cases are tough to crack because most contractors and subcontractors don't record equipment serial numbers, and many tools don't have serial numbers to record.

Contractors also don't insure equipment because the premiums are too high. Gore said it's cheaper to replace stolen tools than it is to make annual insurance payments. "It's just not worth it," he said.

Gore said construction workers' best defense against job site theft is locking tools in a truck or van and taking them home every night. But even then there's a chance they'll be stolen.

"The only real cure I can think of is the millennium," Gore said.