One Auckland family lost a precious memento when thieves walked on to their property, writes Rowena Orejana. It's just one example of major crime that's costing homeowners and tradespeople across the region
Old Mill Rd is in one of Auckland's better- off neighbourhoods with streets of well- kept homes. That is why Carrie Skeen is baffled and outraged at what has been stolen from her property.
Since her Westmere property has become a building site, people seem to feel they can walk off the street and help themselves.
``It's amazing that people think they have a free pass to enter our property and get what ever they want,' says Mrs Skeen, who is pregnant with her second child.
What's most upsetting to her is the loss of a dwarf mandarin tree, which had great sentimental value.
``These plants were put in to celebrate the birth of our first child and involved a `burying of the placenta' ceremony.
``On the weekend I discovered they had been dug up and stolen, being due to have another baby, I was not only very angry but very emotional as the plants represent our son and his years of life,' says Mrs Skeen.
``I think they'll be cursed,' says her husband, Norman.
Their son, Marley, whose placenta was buried under the tree 2 years ago, is puzzled.
He walks around the area asking, ``My tree?'.
Mr Skeen has chased two people taking plants from their property and one picking feijoas. ``I think it's weird that someone would steal fruit trees off our property,' he says. And Mrs Skeen says: ``It's downright rude. I walked up and down swearing for 10 minutes and spent another 10 minutes crying.'
The property has been cleared for their family home to be built on it, which was why they had the ceremony. The tree would have grown as their son grew.
Mrs Skeen finds the behaviour bizarre.
``It's not like we're in a low socio-economic area. This is Westmere,' she said.
The builders told her they would put up a plastic barrier to protect the area. ``I don't know if that would work,' she says. ``People would still come in.' She's under no illusion that the plant will be returned.
``Even if they do, I don't think it would be good for the tree to be dug up, replanted, and dug up again,' she says.
They will probably plant something new for Marley when they have a placenta ceremony for the baby. ``But it won't be a true representation of Marley's years.'
Burglaries at home building sites are common throughout Auckland, and very little can be done to stop it.
Auckland Registered Master Builders Association president Andy Gray says the thefts are ``a terrible inconvenience and it is just a horrible part of our culture that there are dishonest people around.
``There are ratbags within our society who seem to think they can help themselves to other people's property.'
Until the keys are turned over to the owners, builders are responsible for everything on the site. ``The builders just absorb the cost.'
John Cole, owner and operator of J. Cole Builders, a small, family-run business in Ponsonby, says some stolen items, such as a spade, may seem minor matters. ``But these tools are the lifeblood of our trade. We can't work if we don't have them and we would have to buy more.
``We recently had five nailguns stolen. Those were pretty expensive - they cost about $700 to $800 each. They smashed the windows of our vans and took them.'
Large firms may claim insurance, but Mr Cole says it's often not worth it to him. ``The premiums are so high. And the clauses they invoke. If you leave your van in the driveway or one of the doors was left open they always find a reason not to pay.'
The manager of a larger construction firm says it's hard to protect sites ``especially in areas notorious for that sort thing'.
One project manager had five houses broken into. ``They took what they wanted and just ripped up the carpet - they didn't actually steal the carpet. All of this cost us about $8000,' she says.
Although North Shore is not usually badly hit, the same company had $6000 of copper wiring stolen from one site. ``There is nothing we can do about it. We can't install any alarm or security devices for that. You can't even employ a security agency. We could be building 35 homes at any given time. The logistics would be horrific.'
She believes many of the thieves are professional. ``They watch the site and wait for the whiteware to be delivered. Then they wait for night to steal the goods.'
Sergeant Keith Olsen, youth and community services supervisor for the Howick police, says vigilance is the best deterrent.
``The important message for builders is to make sure that the items that are desirable for thieves and burglars are well secured or removed,' he says.
And for the neighbours: ``If you see anything suspicious, or a person on the property after the hours one would expect the tradesmen to be working, call 111 immediately.'
Police investigations often begin by identifying those who regularly buy stolen goods.
``Often the burglars are looking to steal things like hot-water cylinders. We target those who receive stolen water cylinders on a regular basis.
``The rationale is: if there is no market for offloading the stolen goods there is little point stealing them in the first place.'
14 05 2009