J&M Contracting Company
Case 580 Super M 64ac691336ea6

How Verizon Connect GPS tracking helped Texas construction fleet recover stolen backhoes

July 13, 2023
Recovering their stolen backhoes might've been like finding a needle in a haystack, but one Texas-based concrete construction fleet has all eyes on deck with Verizon's GPS tracking software installed on their assets.

J&M Contracting, a construction fleet in Huntsville, Texas, had three backhoes stolen between 2014 and 2018. These could range from $52,000 (used) to $85,000 (new) and perform various highway-based construction tasks. After yet another backhoe was stolen in January 2019, the company's safety and fleet manager, Garland Spivey, knew something needed to be done.

To better secure the fleet's 28 Ford Super Duty trucks and 33 backhoes and front-end loaders, Spivey called on Verizon Connect and its GPS fleet tracking software, which provides fleets with information on vehicle location.

Because the fleet already lost more than $200,000 worth of assets, Spivey said “monthly rates (for the devices and service) are well worth it.”

In addition, the fleet management solution provides data on speed, mileage, idling, and fuel usage, allowing customers to reduce fuel consumption and maintenance costs. As a bonus, fleets can monitor fuel card usage to prevent theft and misuse, seeing when a fill-up exceeds the asset's tank capacity, or comparing the asset location against where and when the card was used.

Spivey said he can also track employees’ time on the job, the routes they’ve traveled, and any hard braking or speeding incidents. And the substantial discount on insurance, of course, doesn’t hurt either.

Dude, where's my backhoe?

Only eight months after contacting Verizon Connect, in fall 2019, another backhoe turned up missing.

That incident ended up being merely an unauthorized use. An employee took it home over the weekend to do personal yard work. An alert was sent to Spivey’s phone, and he knew right away something was up because the backhoe should not have left J&M’s yard on a Saturday morning when crews were off the clock.

But the thefts to come in the months ahead were a little less benign.

Spivey describes one theft as unique and also beneficial to local law enforcement. He set up alerts for equipment usage on nights and weekends, but he wasn’t prepared for a backhoe to be stolen at 8 a.m. on a Monday, right under the crew's noses.

With a quick GPS map check, Spivey was able to give law enforcement the exact location of the stolen backhoe. It was about 5 miles away and was being used in broad daylight.

See also: For sophisticated cargo thieves, use advanced tools

But the real kicker, Spivey said, is that because of the alerts he set up and the asset's GPS tracker, law enforcement was able to bust up the criminal construction ring. And J&M's backhoe wasn't the only asset the thieves swiped.

“This guy was digging a pond for a customer, and he was using all stolen equipment,” Spivey said. “He had [another] backhoe that had been reported stolen, and the utility trailer was stolen. The truck he had was reported stolen two years before.”

Spivey reported that several arrests have been made and after the six incidents, each stolen asset was recovered. He added that he gets no resistance when working with sheriff’s departments from start to finish.

“They’re amazed I know exactly where my equipment is located,” he said. “I’ll give them the GPS coordinates, and they’ll go right to the scene.”

Hardware at a glance

Mathew Long, Verizon Connect senior manager of product marketing, said the vehicle transmitter unit (VTU), about the size of a '90s flip phone, simply plugs in under the dash into a port that is “usually pretty accessible and easy.”

The 4G signal inside the VTU connects to a variety of servers that send information from the vehicle into a piece of software with both web and mobile capabilities, Long explained.

“Somebody like Garland could ultimately leverage insights about the vehicle from either their mobile device, a laptop, or a desktop back at the office,” Long said. “They would essentially have access and visibility on a live map of all of their vehicles and where they are at any one particular moment in time.”

See also: AI-enabled camera stops dealership thieves in their tracks

Spivey said the Verizon Reveal App he uses on his phone to track each asset is easy to navigate for someone who is not tech-savvy.

“It was overwhelming to me to know that I could actually pull up the map and see where everything was,” Spivey said. “All of our equipment was in real-time.”

This article originally appeared in Fleet Maintenance, one of FleetOwner's sister sites.

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