By Master Sgt. George Erdel, Beaufort Police Department
I learned about ESO® back in 2012 when our department was trained by 3SI on utilizing an RF beacon to support devices employed by local businesses. I wanted to implement an ESO Program right away to combat “routine” quality of life crimes like thefts from motor vehicles and theft of equipment (i.e. leaf blowers, chain saws, etc.) The budget would not initially allow it, but we ultimately obtained a grant for the purchase of four ESO devices in 2016.
We were seeing pattern thefts of tools and equipment from trucks parked in local hotel parking lots. Saws, tool boxes, even scuba gear was being taken. We had about 30 incidents within a couple of months between three different hotels within a ¾ mile radius. We placed a spare department vehicle at the most-targeted hotel parking lot and parked it in the manner as the other victims had. We put ESO devices in a tool box and a drill, and dusted the cases with an invisible theft-detection powder that fluoresces under black light. We left the ESO-equipped items in the truck bed.
Two days later at about 6:45 am, I received a motion alert on my phone and began tracking the devices via the 3SI website. I notified the patrol shift and provided them with the location data via portable radio. The devices went stationary next to a local charity and officers arrived moments after the devices stopped moving. The suspect was found hiding in a clothing donation bin next to the building. The bicycle he had been riding was mere feet away, our bait items hanging from the handlebars. The suspect denied any association with the bike.
Using a forensic black light, we could see the theft-detection powder glowing brightly on his hands. The hotel security camera showed the suspect on the same bike cruising through the hotel parking lot just two minutes prior to ESO activation. The items themselves were not expensive enough to charge the suspect with grand larceny, but he had an extensive criminal history with convictions for property crimes, which allowed him to be charged with an enhanced larceny charge. After the suspect’s arrest, the thefts abated completely. He ultimately plead guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison.
We had been getting repeatedly hit (five incidents in less than one month) at a local car repair chain store. The MO was to bust the glass on cars and rifle through, taking small items. I placed an ESO in a Marine Corps issue backpack, and in a camera bag containing a Sony Handycam. A couple of weeks later, both items alerted simultaneously at 0341 hours. I was able to immediately alert patrol officers, who responded and set up a perimeter.
I would absolutely recommend ESO to other LE officers. ESO is a game-changer and enables officers to efficiently catch suspects in the act of property crimes that are normally very difficult to detect, let alone stop.
The suspect saw one of the officers and ran off into some woods and, ultimately, a nearby apartment. In his haste he dropped the military pack and inside was a deck of cards taken from a burglarized vehicle, still in the wrapper, with his fingerprints on it. It wasn’t a “perfect” deployment but the rapid response enabled by the ESO led to the ultimate success in stopping this repeat offender, as he turned himself in once we went public with his identity. ESO was the most viable and cost-effective option, as the suspect was hitting about once a week, but wasn’t consistent enough in his times for us to know exactly when he might strike again.
ESO’s flexibility means you can find very creative ways to use it. During Hurricane Matthew, most of the town lost power and someone managed to break through a jewelry store security gate. They didn’t get into the store, but I thought they might come back and try again. So I deployed ESO in a sealed bag on the inside of the gate so I’d be notified if they did return.
These are just a few of the successes we’ve already had with ESO. In my opinion these devices already paid for themselves for the year when compared with how much it would have cost in man hours to effect the same result.
About Master Sgt. Erdel
George Erdel is a Master Sgt. in charge of the Investigations Division. He started in law enforcement in 1996 as a military policeman in the Marine Corps. He left active duty in 2003 and signed on with Beaufort PD, starting patrol. In 2009, he became an investigator and was promoted to his current position. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in CJ Administration from Park University in 2015.