Between March 1 and May 17, 2018, incident reports from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office show that more than $117,500 in building materials, tools, vehicles and appliances have been stolen from construction sites in Forsyth County.
In that time, 35 homes under construction were burglarized, and according to authorities only a small percentage of those thefts will ever be solved.
"A lot of these homes are missing the microwaves, stovetops, fridges, windows, said Sgt. Derek Bleisath, the supervisor over the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office property crimes division. “Everything has been wiped down and there are a ton of shoeprints so it's hard to eliminate who is who. This type of investigation is hard because, yes we have gotten prints, but a lot of those prints come back to the workers.”
In an interview with FCN Friday, Bleisath said that in a rapidly growing area like Forsyth County, these thefts have become a regular occurrence, but they normally see an increase when temperatures become more moderate in the spring and summer.
"It's common all year long; it just depends on the season, and on what type of construction you are having,” he said. “Now that the weather is getting better and they are bringing more materials to the construction sites … There is no security, there are hardly ever any cameras put up by the private companies. That's why it's so difficult to track down who is doing what."
Bleisath said that even when the sheriff’s office is able to patrol areas with construction regularly, they still can’t watch every site every hour of the night and sometimes have a hard time identifying who should be in the construction sites and who shouldn’t.
“On the weekends, you have so much traffic coming and going, people looking at the subdivisions, at the new homes, and obviously we can’t stop everyone in and out,” he said. “But someone going out with a truck load of lumber, yeah we are going to try to stop them, identify them and take the investigation further."
Bleisath said that the majority of these crimes happen at night, and many times thieves use vans, or other work trucks, to hide in plain sight, appearing to the casual observer as if they were a worker at the job site late.
He added that the one arrest made in the past few months of someone stealing from construction sites was a "right time, right place" scenario, where the suspect was caught red handed at a job site.
In that instance, Juan Carlos Moreno Cordero, a 24-year-old man from Cumming, was arrested for theft by taking after he was found loading lumber in his truck at a construction site off of Montebello Parkway in Cumming, according to an incident report.
"A lot of those reports don't even get assigned because there’s no evidence, no witnesses, leads or anything else," Bleisath said.
Even if builders know exactly what has been stolen, Bleisath said they often have no way of finding the items through their normal avenues like pawn shops or online sellers because lumber and tools are virtually untraceable, and contractors rarely keep serial numbers to appliances and other big-ticket items.
"Without that information, we are at a standstill ... I could go find it at a junk yard, but which one is our victims’?" he said.
According to Cpl. Doug Rainwater, spokesman for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, they believe that the majority of the items stolen from construction sites are not being sold, but are being recycled back into construction sites, where they will never be identified as stolen.
"It's not going on the black market, it's not going on Craigslist, it's going in someone else’s house," Rainwater said.
Bleisath said that regardless of where the stolen items are going, there are steps that communities and businesses can take to reduce their risk from these crimes.
"Whether you live there or you are coming to visit, if you see something that looks out of place, go ahead and call us," he said, explaining that this is yet another good example of where citizens can practice the "See Something, Say Something.”
"A lot of these people are hesitant,” Rainwater said. “They say they don't want to waste our time, but it may be that one time we need to be out there."
Rainwater said putting up cameras, even trail cameras that can be bought from a sporting goods store, could help capture suspects in the act.
"It has helped us in the past,” Rainwater said, “not only with thefts, but with entering autos, burglaries and stuff like that, to get vehicle descriptions or tag numbers.”
In early May, the sheriff’s office reported on Facebook that a trail camera in a home under construction off of Starwood Drive in Cumming was able to capture a suspect in the act of stealing copper wire. Bleisath said that with those images, they were able to put an alert out into the community showing the man's face and images of his vehicle.
"But now we need help from the public to find him," he said.