Rise in Lawn Equipment Theft Aided by Greater Opportunity

AN UNLOCKED SHED, such as this one, is a prime target for a thief. (Photo: Matt Delaney)

The City of Falls Church is experiencing a year-long trend of lawn equipment theft that is leaving residents and City officials concerned over its prevalence and curious about the next steps to take.

As of last week, the City of Falls Church Police Department has received 98 reports of larceny, with 24 of those reports consisting of lawn equipment theft. That’s not including the most recent crime report the City released Monday which includes a report of three pieces of lawn equipment stolen from the garage of a home on Little Falls St. between Oct. 4 – 7.

This trend is more alarming considering last year’s numbers on lawn equipment theft were so low — just one item was reported stolen in 2016. Out of all of this year’s incidents, only one time was a witness in the area able to spot a suspect in the act. However, the perpetrator quickly jumped over a fence and ran out of sight before any physical identifiers could be noticed.

It’s unnerving for residents to know there actually is something going bump in the night, but City police are quick to point out that these crimes are preventable with a few extra safeguards.

“These are mainly crimes of opportunity,” Falls Church Police Chief Mary Gavin said. “If you give them an opportunity, they’ll take it.”

According to Gavin, nearly every larceny crime that’s occurred in the City is a result of a resident forgetting to lock their car, close their garage door or put a lock on their shed.

Gavin sympathizes with residents and understands that there’s a certain comfort that comes with having your belongings on your property, be it in a driveway or a backyard. Still, all it takes for these opportunists to upend that sense of security is to wrap a sock around their hand and start testing car and shed handles to see what they hold inside.

The rate at which these type of thefts have increased fosters the idea that there’s a coordinated effort to loot for lawn equipment. Gavin’s not sold on that hypothesis yet, though with the City experiencing a higher rate of these crimes in comparison to neighboring jurisdictions (partly due to the City’s smaller land area), she’s not ruling out that the perpetrator(s) are locals who live within or around the City.

In her 30 years of policing, Gavin notes this isn’t a new phenomenon. She regularly observed this kind of activity while working in Arlington as well. In her experience, the perpetrators are typically looking for a quick buck and can sometimes be homeless.
With lawnmowers running from $20 to $260 on Craigslist depending on its quality, a three-equipment haul like the one on Little Falls St. could be netting hundreds of dollars for the perpetrator(s). That’s not including the scrap metal and copper these mundane landscaping tools also yield.

City police are doing their part in response to these crimes. Anytime a report comes in police units will saturate the area and sometimes bring in a K-9 team in attempt to pick up a lead. Operationally, the Criminal Investigation Department has determined which times these crimes usually occur and use that information to better dictate patrol routes to frequently hit areas.

Otherwise, City police are mainly in a reactionary mode. They bank on leads from pawn shops that believe they’ve received a stolen item or catching one perpetrator and leveraging their sentence in return for information about how the crimes are carried out and possible accomplices.

For now, the emphasis is on residents to serve as their own first line of defense. Gavin suggests recording down the item’s serial number or scratching it into the equipment so it can facilitate being traced if stolen. The City also offers free home inspections and is willing to call a community meeting if residents express interest. But most of all, the City wants to remind residents to lock their cars, close their garage doors and buy a padlock for their shed if they have any concern about being a victim of larceny.