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Tenn. police say GPS helping solve theft case

By Lauren Gregory
The Chattanooga Times Free Press

EAST RIDGE, Tenn. — Frank Geismar does all he can to keep track of the construction equipment he manages for East Ridge-based Brown Bros. Inc. But when he can't be there himself, there's an eye in the sky watching for him — and for police.

The satellite-based global positioning systems that Brown Bros. recently installed in nine of its machines provided authorities with a valuable tool when a $60,000 skid steer loader was reported missing earlier this year, said Mr. Geismar, a project manager for the grading firm.

"Within a few minutes, I knew where it was," he said. "In less than an hour and a half we got there, and Chattanooga, Hamilton County, Catoosa County (Ga.) and the federal authorities were all there, looking for this guy."

Ringgold, Ga., resident Dale Lewis Ramsey was arrested in March and charged with seven counts of possession of stolen property after law enforcement personnel found him with the skid steer loader and several other reportedly stolen machines worth more than $300,000.

The arrest has been wrapped into an ongoing multijurisdictional investigation that has recovered more than $1 million worth of stolen equipment so far, Chattanooga Detective Jeff Rearden said.

The Brown Bros. case is among several in recent months in which police have used GPS technology to speed up theft investigations, said Detective Rearden, who works in the department's auto theft unit.

He cited the recovery of a 2003 Peterbilt truck, reported stolen in October from an East 35th Street body shop. The truck was found a short time later in Catoosa County, Ga., with the help of GPS coordinates, according to an incident report.

Then, on Dec. 19, a 2005 Chevrolet Silverado pickup reported stolen from the Kelly Auto Group on Chapman Road was located in Athens, Tenn., because it had been equipped with an OnStar system, according to reports.

"The satellite tracking ability of vehicles makes it so much easier for us to find the vehicle, because it gives us a target to shoot for," Detective Rearden said, explaining that GPS units immediately can get him within 10 feet of a stolen car. Otherwise, he said, "it's like hunting for a needle in a haystack."

GPS technology has continued to help Mr. Geismar, who said he can log onto the company's Internet account at any time to pull up a map of the machines' locations.

"They're easy to use and relatively inexpensive," he said, noting that each GPS unit costs between $200 and $300 initially, plus monitoring costs. "They seemed to do what we wanted them to do, so we bought some more. And then we bought some more."

Companies nationwide use GPS tracking for fleet maintenance, according to the Web site for Vehiclepath, the provider of Brown Bros.' system.

However, Detective Rearden said, the trend appears to be slow to catch on locally.

While satellite technology is becoming standard on many cars, police might see only one in 50 vehicles equipped with such devices, he said.

"We'd like for it to be a lot more common than it is," the detective said. "I think it ought to be standard on any piece of equipment."

Copyright 2008 Chattanooga Times Free Press

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